A news story broke in the Tampa Bay Times this morning about a special education teacher being accused of physically abusing two special needs students. This was not the first teacher in this area to be accused of such; and Clearwater isn't the only place where events like this have happened. It makes one wonder if special needs programs hire teachers for their training or simply because it is difficult to find teachers who want the positions.
Dealing for years with the special education system in Erie, the opportunity to see the problem was there. At one point, only two elementary schools offered Emotional Support classes, one on each side of town. For the kids these classes couldn't handle, Sarah Reed Children's Center filled the need with their early intervention, partial hospitalization and residential programs. One ES class in the public schools consisted of thirteen boys in grades one through three. That many boys of that age are difficult to deal with as it is. Add in the emotional needs that caused meltdowns and violent behavior and it is easy to see how a teacher could become stressed. To their credit, the teachers at this particular, one for this class and one for the fourth ad fifth graders, loved their obs and had the knowledge and patience to deal effectively. It is easy to see, however, how having a day when two or more of these children are having difficult days a teacher could become overwhelmed.
Erie has one of the best programs in place for special needs children, although it is far from perfect. Many other places across the nation are not so lucky. Over-crowded classrooms that have not increased with the need, teachers untrained in how to deal with the special emotional needs of these children and often parents who are so overwhelmed at home they step back and allow the schools to deal with their children, trusting they will be treated fairly. As a nation, we need to step in and provide both the teachers and the children the things they need--smaller classes, ongoing support for the teachers, parent involvement incentives and proper screening of teachers for those with the ability to handle the extreme, ongoing stress involved in these positions. More than anything, our special needs children need to feel safe in the one place they spend the most time outside of home.