Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Superintendent Starr Omits Special Education Students from His State of the Schools Address

MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr delivered his first State of the Schools address on November 12, this past Monday.

You can find video of the event and download a transcripts of Dr. Starr's speech on the MCPS website.

I was unable to attend Dr. Starr's speech because it took place right during school drop-off times, but I was interested to hear what he had said. I was originally encouraged after his appointment as superintendent when he attended a Special Education Advisory Meeting to listen to parent concerns shortly after he began work in Montgomery County.

At the time, I wrote on my personal blog about what I would have asked Dr. Starr if I had the ability to raise my hand and talk at those sorts of things. What I would have said was this:

“My son is important. He could grow up to be a professor or to work in a pizza parlor. No matter what, he has an intrinsic human worth and deserves the education funding to give him the greatest possible opportunities in life. I know my son is valuable. I think most of the people in this room know that my son and their children are valuable. But there are a lot of people in this county who don’t know that, or worse, adamantly do not believe that. When those people tell you that you are wasting money educating special education students, I want to know that you have our back. I want to know that you will stand up and say, ‘Yes, these students are important and deserve their fair share of the education budget.’ Will you do that when the time comes?”

At his state of the schools address, Dr. Starr didn't mention special education once. Not once. It makes me think that he does not, in fact, have our back.

Lyda Astrove, parent, advocate, and contributor to the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland website wrote a letter to Dr. Starr expressing her disappointment in this omission. She says it better than I ever could.

Please read her letter below and consider letting Dr. Starr know that parents in Montgomery County, both with and without special education children, care about these students and want to know that there is a plan to make sure that they are properly educated, included in the conversation, and treated with the respect they deserve. Like Lyda, I want to know why special education students are not important enough to Dr. Starr to be included in his speech.

Lyda's letter (posted with her permission):

Dear Dr. Starr: 
Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the State of The Schools speech this morning; however, I did read it online this evening.

I just can't understand why you, as a former special educator, did not once mention students with disabilities or special education in your 30 minute, 9 page speech.
I saw that you talked about everyone else, though: minority students, immigrants, gifted students, AP students, Intel Science Scholars, the gap between White and Asian and Black and Hispanic students.... and your employees. 
But you forgot to mention the 12% of the students in MCPS who have a disability. 
I was surprised, so I "searched" your speech for the words "disability" "disabilities" and "special." They were not there. 
Did you omit mentioning these students because they don't fit with the image that Montgomery County Public Schools is trying to project? Or because they are so low on your list of priorities that you didn't even remember to mention them in your "state of the schools?" Or because your "leadership team" has a disdain for these children? 
Not everyone is going to college. Youngsters with autism and intellectual disabilities deserve the same kind of commitment to a high quality education that you espouse for everyone else. And talk about "educational debt"...it is only in my lifetime that kids like mine were even given the right to GO to school. 
One out of every 9 students in MCPS has an educational disability. You are the superintendent of all students. You should have told us your vision for the kids who aren't going to college, or the kids whose challenge to just walk out the front door every morning takes more strength and courage than you would ever know. 
I know you are coming to the Advisory Committee in two weeks. It's easy to "preach to the choir." You should have told everyone else about the importance of educating our children with disabilities. 
Lyda Astrove
Rockville, MD

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