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Survey: Children With Different Needs Overlooked

Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education members listened to survey results detailing services for those with learning disabilities.

By Kathleen Wirth

Assistant City Editor

Despite the recognition given to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the results of an educational survey have sparked some concern that the system could be overlooking special-needs students.

At Thursday night's Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education meeting, school officials presented the Exceptional Education Resource Services Survey.

The Office of Testing and Program Evaluation along with the Office of Exceptional Education collaborated during the summer to survey parents and staff concerning resources and related services offered to exceptional students in the district.

"Exceptional" denotes learning disabilities such as attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, autism and dyslexia.

But several board members pointed to training regular education teachers on how to implement Individual Education Programs for children with disabilities as a major concern.

IEPs are specifically tailored programs to address the learning needs of exceptional students.

Of the nearly 340 staff members who responded to the survey, 60 percent said regular teachers are not adequately trained to teach several children with different needs in one classroom. "The teachers need to understand why these students need the interaction we're asking them to do," said school board member Gloria Faley. "It's not just about training but about changing one's heart, mind and perception -- it's a sensitivity issue."

But Margaret Blackwell, executive director for Exceptional Education and Special Services, said she does not want added training to become a burden for already overworked teachers. "There needs to be a good marriage between staff," Blackwell said. "We don't want to just put it out and have it be one more thing (for teachers)."

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, passed in 1975, requires public schools to offer all eligible children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to meet their individual needs -- all resulting in a student's IEP.

Each student's IEP must be developed by a team consisting of the student's teacher, parents and an exceptional education representative who is qualified in the field of special education. A child's IEP also must be reviewed annually by this team.

But school board member Maryanne Rosenman said she has encountered problems dealing directly with the members of this team. "The real problem is with collaboration between regular and resource teachers simply because teachers are so overworked," Rosenman said. "I've had personal experience with pullout programs. In all of my experience, having three kids, I've never had a regular teacher show up for an IEP meeting."

School board Chairman Nick Didow said the survey results must be given serious thought in order to improve the district's overall quality of education.

"This is a very good school system for most students most of the time," Didow said.

"It will only be great (when) we can be good for all students all of the time."

The City Editor can be reached


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