Minneapolis turns its back on special needs students


Image from mssonline.org

Last week, the one-year-old charter school Minnesota School of Science informed the families of 40 North Minneapolis students with special needs, such as Autism and Down’s Syndrome, that they would be breaking their promise of allowing these students to return to class in September. The school took over the district’s Cityview Elementary School in August 2011, which was closed down due to poor test scores. The replacement plan mandated that special needs classrooms remained in the building, that their students would remain, and that MSS provide a mandatory 1-year opportunity for special needs students from Cityview to interact with their peers. However, with problems that arose in spring this year, the board of the school realized that there would be “some difficulty” in maintaining this arrangement, and as such, on July 9, the board informed the district that they would not welcome back students with special needs in the fall. In other words, the students, many of whom reside in North Minneapolis, will have to attend Pillsbury or Sheridan Elementary School in the Northeast.

While Charter Schools, as, contentiously, part of the public education system, should, by principle, be open to all students, Rob-Paning-Miller, according to the Huffington Post, cites this latest “forced exodus” of special needs students as “just the latest evidence that charter schools do not serve all students.” Furthermore, statistics show that 11% of students enrolled in traditional public school had special needs, compared to 9% in charter schools, hinting at a severe problem within the special needs education system.

As Diane Ravitch questions, “is this what no child left behind means?” Indeed, I’m feeling ridiculously livid as I read articles on this subject. It seems to me that MSS’ board is turning its back on and walking away from special needs kids for the sake of bumping up test scores to avoid being shut down like Cityview was. While I agree that paper qualifications like performance of standardized tests may be important, I don’t believe that schools in the public school system are in any way justified to marginalized (read: expel) students that they feel are holding the school back – or that they simply do not have the resources, and think it will be “a challenge” to provide education for special needs students. It’s disappointing that the families of special needs kids are being bounced around to other schools, and are not given equal treatment in the education process. If we believe that one of the aims of education is to bring every person to distinction and to his best, and if America really wants to make sure that no child is left behind, it needs to strive towards more inclusive (public) education with schools that truly address their needs: one that gives special needs children the same level playing field as their mainstream peers.

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  1. ACLU of Minnesota.
    Executive Director: Charles Samuelson.
    2300 Myrtle Ave, Suite 180.
    St. Paul, MN 55114.
    Phone: (651) 645-4097 Fax: (651) 647-5948 | Email: support@aclu-mn.org.
    Web: http://www.aclu-mn.org/

    DO ALL KIDS HAVE THE RIGHT TO AN EQUAL EDUCATION?

    Yes! All kids living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. Even if you are in this country illegally, you have the right to go to public school. The ACLU is fighting hard to make sure this right isn’t taken away.

    In addition to this constitutional guarantee of an equal education, many federal, state and local laws also protect students against discrimination in education based on sexual orientation or disability, including pregnancy and HIV status.

    In fact, even though some kids may complain about having to go to school, the right to an equal educational opportunity is one of the most valuable rights you have. The Supreme Court said this in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case when it struck down race segregation in the public schools.

    If you believe you or someone you know is being discriminated against in school, speak up! Talk to a teacher, the principal, the head of a community organization or a lawyer so they can investigate the situation and help you take legal action if necessary.

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