Thursday, December 29, 2016

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools threaten to phase out top-notch special education classes at Randolph Middle School

Right before winter break, I got word that our school district, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, was phasing out the special education classes at Randolph Middle School, Ben's middle school (grades 6, 7 and 8). Phasing out means that rising 6th graders would not have the opportunity to attend Ben's school next year. As the current students in the special education classes transition to high school, the program would be closed.

Unfortunately, the school district made these changes without talking to the parents whose children are in the program or those who may have been interested in the school's program for next year. It does not appear that anyone at the school was consulted. The decision was made for next year without consulting those who would be affected.

Within the past week, we have received tremendous support from many different groups of people - parents of regular education students, parents of special education students, teachers, administration and school board members. Some are writing letters, signing petitions and others are lobbying where they can.

Here is one letter from Lucy Cochran, a former student at Ben's school:

Dear CMS (Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools) Administration,

My name is Lucy Cochran and I am writing to you regarding the fact that I heard you are planning to end the SAC (special academic curriculum) program at Randolph. I know there are probably many reasons why you feel you need to but if you could please read this letter maybe I can convince you to change your mind. I am a junior at Myers Park High School and I am in the IB (International Baccalaureate) program there. I attended Randolph Middle School for 6-8 grade and enjoyed it greatly. It was there where I was first introduced to working with kids with special needs and that love of working with them has never stopped.  

The main reason I am writing this though is because of how much this program has affected my life, even into high school. For my personal project my sophomore year at Myers Park, I wanted to do something combining my love of sports with working with kids with special needs. After some research I decided to start a unity type program at Randolph. I contacted Ms. Glass (special education teacher) who was more than willing to help and we were able to quickly organize two practices and a game with her classes and some of my friends offering to play too. This project was such a success that it has branched into a group of my friends and I going back every month to play with them.  

Now while this program might seem like a small thing that only affects us once a month it most definitely isn’t. I will first show how it affects the group of people I bring that do not have special needs. We were all friends of some sort at Randolph but now I only have classes with a few of them and we aren’t all very close. But every month when I send out the text asking who can come to Randolph we all clear our schedules in order to come and get increasingly happy and excited as it gets closer to the day. This project has brought us all a lot closer and allows us to have a common thing to talk about even if the rest of our lives go in completely different directions.   

This project also affects the kids in the SAC program at Randolph just as much if not more. Ms. Glass tells us that they are always asking for us to come and that when they know we are coming that day they get very impatient waiting. It has brought the class even closer together, although just by looking at them you can tell they already get along really well. We start by running a few drills and then scrimmage which makes them to work together and pass in order to get around us volunteers. As the practices went on there was significant progress in how they worked together and cheered each other on. You can tell that they really need the support from each other and the SAC program helps them to make lasting relationships that should not be taken away. And this classroom environment led by Ms. Glass and Ms. McQuillan (special education teachers) provides just that to these students. They are all comfortable and trust each other and by taking away the program you would be separating one of the greatest support systems that they have.  

In taking that classroom environment away you would be separating a class of students that are much closer than any class I have ever been in. You would be taking them away from teachers that they clearly love. You would be taking them away from a great PE program that supports them and integrates them in with other students. And finally you would be removing an important asset of the school.   

In doing my personal project I also did research in how special needs kids impact kids without special needs. My findings showed that by allowing interaction between the two groups, they both grow up to be more accepting of different cultures and beliefs. The first way this is evident is in that many of us that go back to play soccer with the kids also went to gym with them in 8th grade, this participation in middle school led us to led us to be more accepting of all people throughout our lives to this day and I’m sure it will continue into the future. Also many of us are introverted people but when we are around them we are confident and are totally comfortable in who we are which is something I know that I am not always.  

Another way the SAC program is important in promoting acceptance is that my 6th grade brother goes to Randolph and in one of the first weeks of school he was able to talk to some of Ms. Glass’s class at recess and he came home talking only about that and no other part of school. He greatly enjoyed it and although he has not had the opportunity to hang out with them again he is still excited to, and asks about them whenever I go and play soccer with them. He also is a lot more accepting of people out in the community and is always willing to put himself out there for people with special needs.  In taking this program away you would be harming not only the safe and accepting environment that the teachers at Randolph have created, but also a valuable resource in making a large group of your students more accepting and better people in the community.   

My final reason is a bit more selfish. These kids have made a huge impact on my life and I wish that I could hang out with them all the time. If you were to remove this program I would not be able to see them as often as I do and possibly even never. I know that last year some of the students graduated from Randolph and went on to East Meck and I miss them all the time, and so losing all of the students would crush me. One specific student I spend 7 weeks of the summer with at various camps and he goes to Randolph. This is my one opportunity to see him and I am as close to him as my three siblings. One month he wasn’t there and I was devastated and his teachers said so was he. Everyone who interacts with these kids has the one student that they create a tight bond with-maybe not that tight-but enough that we often talk about them and it makes us all happier. I am sure that we are not the only ones who have made such a close bond with the students, and taking away this program would cause a huge group of people to be extremely disappointed.   

My life so far has been very blessed, I am on track to row for college possibly on scholarship, I did well on my SAT and ACT, and my grades have been straight A’s. But these kids do not have it this easy, the world is out to challenge them. In taking away this safe-haven where these kids feel comfortable with each other and their teachers and can receive a great education, you are taking away one of the largest constants in their life that they have come to trust and rely on. Not everyone has it easy in this world and it is our responsibility to help these kids out. I know that funding can be an issue, or having the right amount of students but I know myself and many of the people that have been affected by this class would be more than willing to do anything you need in order to keep this program intact. If you have any questions my contact information is at the bottom. Thank you so much for your time in reading this letter, I hope it will lead you to reconsider your decision.

Sincerely,

Lucy Cochran

* I reprinted this with Lucy and her parent's permission. The letter was edited for length.

**If you wish to support our efforts to keep the special education program at Randolph Middle School, there are a few ways you can help:

1. Sign our petition if you are a Mecklenburg County resident: Save Special Education at Randolph
2. Share this post on social media.
3. Email this post to friends who may have a vested interest in this cause.
4. Write your own letter and send to school board members and CMS administration. I have all the information for you. My email is vanessainfanzon@gmail.com
5. Attend the CMS School Board Meeting on January 10, 2017 at 6 p.m. at the Government Center, 600 East Fourth Street. Bring posters.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for your desire to help the special needs kids in this self contained class. However, I am a parent of a 10 year old with special needs and while this class does seem to be succeeding in your eyes and has even helped you to become a more well rounded individual, is it REALLY the BEST thing for these students who REALLY are deserving of the same opportunities as you?
    It is my belief and desire to see my son totally integrated into the TYPICAL classroom albeit with accommodations and modifications that create an environment in which he can succeed right along side the more 'blessed' (as you put it) students. This way, hopefully, he could enlighten not only you but also the rest of your condescending friends and family that his value is not only in helping you to become more compassionate and a better team player with your other typically developing friends, but his value comes from his God who created him with a purpose and a plan and in the fact that he has God -Given abilities and talents even if they are not measurable with any of the lauded tests and exams that you have scored so highly on and that you feel give your opinion so much weight in this request you are making to keep our kids segregated from the rest of the population. Ultimately, our kids should feel safe and confident in the typical population as a whole. They are not a different species or "pets" that should be played with once a month. They are human beings who deserve the exact same opportunities as any other child of a tax paying parent in Mecklenberg County.
    So, my question for the school system is this- in what way are you planning to BETTER serve these students in the future?
    It is my hope that you will guarantee that they are fully integrated into their neighborhood school in classes with same aged peers with all of the modifications and accommodations as well as compassionate open minded experienced teachers willing to ensure they are challenged to reach the same potential as any other student in the classroom while providing whatever resources they need to attain a top level education.
    Woody Brown
    woodybrown47@gmail.com
    704-278-3159

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  2. Thank you Woody. I will call you this morning.

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  3. What works for some students will not work for all. The best and least restrictive environment for each student should be individually determined, based on a continuum of services from self-contained to total inclusion with appropriate support. This has been a very successful program for many students in CMS, and as a retired CMS employee who is very familiar with the special ed. programs available, I can attest to its success for the students placed there. It doesn't sound like those students are necessarily going to inclusion programs in their neighborhood schools, but rather that SAC and AU classes will be combined, which is utterly inappropriate.

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  4. Thank you Kathy. I appreciate you sharing your perspective - I know you have the experience in the school system and understand the needs of the students well.

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Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. If you wish to contact me directly, please let me know and I will email you.