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Column: Mandated but gradual changes improve lives

By Deb Stoll. District 518

WORTHINGTON — Do you enjoy change? Are you a person who thrives on doing things differently than you are used to? Or are you a routine person, who finds comfort in doing things the same way year after year?

Chances are you are a bit of both. Change is nice, but predictability also has its place in our lives. As you ponder these questions, relate how you feel about change to public schools — specifically the Worthington School District. This theme is: schools look different than our parents’ school district. In fact, schools look different than when we all attended school.

Forty-two years ago, the federal government passed a law known as the All Handicapped Children’s Educational Act. This mandated law required schools across the United States to ensure that all students with disabilities had a free and appropriate education, parents and students had educational rights to make decisions about their child’s education and schools were accountable to implement this law. Schools were forever changed!

This law has been reauthorized through the years, all in the realm of improving the education and lives of students who experience disabilities. Now our students are educated with their peers and are granted opportunities that were not allowed in the 1920s to 1970s. In fact, during the 1900s through 1960s, if a student had a disability (vision, hearing, physical or cognitive), the students were educated separately, away from their able-bodied classmates — and often times taken away from their parents and put in intuitions (1920s and 1930s) so no one would be bothered by the student’s differences. Unbelievably sad but true.

Worthington’s schools have followed the mandates for the federal and state governments — not only because it’s the law, but because it’s ethical and the best decision for students with disabilities. We have changed, matured, developed and grown to provide the best opportunities for our students to make progress on their goals and their lives. Our schools have changed!

With these changes, schools now educate students with disabilities next to their non-disabled peers for students that have hearing impairments, vision concerns, behavior problems, learning and cognitive disabilities. So in order to provide those services, schools need to have space; classrooms and offices and space to provide the instruction and supports for our students with special needs are required to implement the needed service. Schools have changed, as these services did not exist when many of us were being educated.  

Currently, in the Worthington school district, approximately 20 percent of the space within the district is used by and for students with special needs. We employ psychologists, special education teachers, speech clinicians, occupational therapists, social workers, therapists, paraprofessionals and an adaptive physical education teacher. Why do we need space for all these staff and students? Our students need these services to make educational progress and learn to cope with their disabilities. So things have changed — for the better!

You may even know somebody with a disability and are aware of the many services that are provided by the 52 special education professionals and paraprofessionals. A total of 12.9 percent of the students within the school district are served under the umbrella of special education. They deserve to have a quality education — not only due to the law, but because it is ethically right and good for students.

But space is an issue, and we need your help to consider the differences between 1975 and 2017. We are moving forward. Please support the schools as we look to the future toward the needs of all students.

Deb Stoll is District 518’s director of special education.