EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 8, 2013

Letter: To understand issue of special needs students, get to know one

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

I have heard and read the cruelest, most outdated comments about local school budget shortfalls because of special needs students.

My son, who has special needs, will enter preschool in January, so I take this very personally.

I have read comments, including asking what business does Haverhill have to spend $325,000 on a special needs student or saying that someone’s child in North Andover is “suffering” because of spending on special needs students.

Municipalities have to provide for special needs students because it is federally mandated through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

My son is just as entitled to a public education as any “typical” child.

Comments I have read and heard are outdated thoughts — that because my son and children like him appear different they cannot learn and that spending on their needs is, therefore, a waste of money.

Special needs, which range from mild learning disabilities or speech difficulties to needs that require a one-on-one aide, nursing care or equipment to help breathing or ambulation, do not necessarily affect intellect.

A birth injury, a quirk on one segment of a gene or chromosome, or spontaneous mutation can be the only thing separating a “typical” child from a special needs child.

The callousness and ignorance of these comments tells me these folks have never really known a special needs child.

When one doesn’t have a personal experience, it’s much easier to group these children as a line item in the school budget and not as children who love, laugh, learn, touch people’s hearts and teach what is truly important in life.

If you are blessed to have a “typical” child, you should be grateful that your child does not require physical and occupational therapy, equipment like a gait trainer and specialty strollers that start at $2,000 each, or constant doctor appointments, tests, procedures, and overnight hospital stays.

In Haverhill, 18 special needs students moved to the city since August. Criticism of Superintendent James Scully implies he should have psychic powers to budget for children he had no way of knowing would be in the school system.

To me, this many special needs students entering Haverhill schools is a testament to the job Scully and his department have done for special needs education.

If this budget overrun were for teachers, supplies and other needed expenses, there would not be such ignorant comments floating around. Any budget overrun is hard to fix, but — as the Eagle-Tribune article stated — the School Department will get back two-thirds of the budget overrun from the state because it is for special education expenses.

Before you dismiss “special needs children” as a nebulous group of unteachable drains on taxpayers get to know one. I guarantee your life will be the better for it, and you will never be the same.

Nora Lyons Sauter