Special-Ed Students Still Wait For Books

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 7, 2005

After six weeks of classes, many special education students in D.C. public schools still are without math and reading textbooks, according to several teachers.

All 62,000 students in the school system were supposed to get new textbooks in math and reading, based on Superintendent Clifford B. Janey's decision to overhaul the learning standards and curriculum for those subjects at every grade level.

The books arrived on time for most general education students. But six special education teachers at different schools across the city said their students, who are taught in separate classrooms, still do not have the material. The teachers said they were told that administrators failed to order the same textbooks for special education students in enough time to assure a prompt delivery.

Chief Academic Officer Hilda L. Ortiz, whose staff oversaw textbook purchases, and Wilma F. Bonner, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, denied that a significant number of students were without books. They said that textbooks were ordered based on a school's total enrollment and that there was not a separate order for special education students.

"At least 90 percent of the special education students have their materials for reading and math," Bonner said. "All the books have been sent to the schools."

The teachers without books said they have been improvising with their own worksheets or photocopying pages from colleagues' textbooks. Some teachers shrugged off the problem, saying it happens every time a switch in books is made, but others said they were outraged that students with disabilities were being shortchanged.

"To deny the lowest-performing population the same resources that the general education students have is a disservice, and it's pretty disheartening," said a teacher whose students include learning-disabled and emotionally disturbed third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Like the other teachers interviewed, she spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns that her comments would get her into trouble.

Teachers said the lack of textbooks also will affect how their students perform next spring on a new exam based on the new learning standards and curriculum. Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, most special education students must take the same exam as their peers in regular classes, and schools are judged based on the yearly progress of both sets of students.

"Our principal spoke with an assistant superintendent and said we will probably not make" adequate yearly progress, one teacher said. "We're already starting behind the eight ball: Our kids are two grades behind."

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said he had received some calls from special education teachers complaining about the lack of textbooks. He said he sent an automated phone message to teachers yesterday seeking feedback on how widespread the problem was.

"Whenever teachers don't receive materials they need in a timely manner, it affects how successfully they will be able to implement the new standards," Parker said.

Board of Education member Victor Reinoso (District 2), a member of the board's ad hoc committee on special education, expressed concern when told about the teachers' complaints and called on the administration to investigate.

"The special education kids deserve access to the same material as other kids," Reinoso said. "If you don't have textbooks, it's difficult to argue you're making available a comprehensive education program to them."

The quality of special education services offered at D.C. public schools has been a long-standing problem. Many parents of special-needs students, dissatisfied with those services, have successfully sued to have their children placed in costly private facilities at the city's expense.

Dawn Henderson, whose eighth-grade daughter is in a special education class at Hardy Middle School in Northwest Washington, said her daughter is using last year's math textbook. "I think it's terrible they're not helping the kids," she said.


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