When lawmakers look at education, they usually focus on funding priorities, teacher certification and test standardization. Slightly lower on the scale are the needs of autistic children and other students who require special treatment in public schools.
It's time for N.C. legislators to pay closer attention to these students and to implement new guidelines or rules about how teachers treat them - because recent evidence suggests that some kids could use the help of policy-makers.
Kathleen Yasui-Der, a former teacher of autistic children in Chapel Hill, was charged in August with two counts of assault on a handicapped person, two counts of contributing to the neglect of a minor and child abuse. Earlier this month, Melinda Dawn Whitley, a Wake County teacher, was arrested and charged with misdemeanor child abuse for letting a student repeatedly bang her head on the floor.
According to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, the Governor's Advocacy Council for Persons with Disabilities will ask the General Assembly next year to adopt a policy regarding how disabled students in public schools should be treated, especially when they exhibit dangerous behavior. Instead of putting the issue aside, lawmakers need to set new policy that clearly outlines what teachers can and can't do.
It's important to note that both Whitley and Yasui-Der have maintained their innocence.
But regardless of whether either of them crossed the line in their treatment of students, the council has reported that it has received six complaints of mistreatment of autistic students in public schools since October 2003. There is a sound basis for state officials to get involved.
It's not a black-and-white issue. Although every student's safety and well-being is paramount in any school setting, there is the reality that having to deal with certain students to maintain an orderly learning environment can be extremely difficult for a teacher.
This isn't just a call for state legislators to "think about the children." More so, it is a chance for the General Assembly to improve North Carolina's education system and to provide much-needed guidelines for the relationship between teachers and students in the state's public schools.
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