Autism Unexpected: Special Education Versus “Regular Kids”


Economic times are tough for a lot of people and institutions these days, and that fiscal reality is no different for school districts across the country. Districts are cutting budgets, eliminating programs, and laying off teachers. It is a shame that school districts have to make these difficult choices, but it is a reality of 2010 that schools are operating on tight budgets.

Los Angeles Unified School District is no different. In an attempt to close a $628-million dollar budget gap, LAUSD will close 200 special education classes as well as a specialized campus for students with disabilities.

This by itself is terrible, but even worse are the words that L.A. schools Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines used to justify this decision. “You have to look at it in perspective,” Cortines is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “When you fund some of the special ed things, you’re taking from regular kids.”

As a parent living in the DC Metro area, I am unfamiliar with the specifics of the LAUSD’s budget problems. I do know, however, that Cortines’ statement smacks of a belief that so-called “regular” kids deserve an education more than special education kids.

This is not something that most people will say aloud. Most people won’t come right out and say that special education spending takes away from their regular education kids. It is somewhat shocking that a school superintendent, responsible for educating all students in his county would say essentially that.

Let’s put aside Cortine’s use of the term “regular” kids. I am hopeful that he meant regular education children rather than saying that special education kids aren’t regular kids. Because underneath their disabilities, our special needs kids very much are regular kids. They’re different, yes, but every child is different.

The idea that one group of children is more deserving of an education is one that I would hope no longer existed. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act clarifies that all students with disabilities must be provided a Free Appropriate Public Education. Regular—and gifted—education students should have the same right. That should be a given.

When a school superintendent, through his words, pits these groups against each other, no one wins. The implication is that my student isn’t going to get a proper education because your child is taking all the resources. Division doesn’t help anyone, all it does is foster an atmosphere of animosity. When the students being accused of taking these funds are already the most vulnerable, and are smaller in number, making up 13% of the Los Angeles school population, the air is ripe for an us versus them way of thinking.

LAUSD special education isn’t the only part of the budget that is being cut. Regular education students are facing their own share of devastating cuts. Not personally knowing the situation of the Los Angeles school system, I can’t say whether the proportion of cuts affecting specifically the special education population is appropriate.

What I can say is that Superintendent Cortine’s response to these cuts is not.

Originally published at Autism Unexpected on June 4, 2010.