The future of many special needs students in Catholic and private schools was put in jeopardy recently.
The Rhode Island Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, chaired by Robert Flanders, voted to accept proposed changes to special education proposed by the Rhode Island Department of Education.
This decision came after months of meetings and hearings, including the moving and passionate testimony from parents of special education students. Hundreds of parents and students had attended hearings to express their opposition to the changes that would adversely affect their special needs students. For Catholic school students with special needs, the changes mean the responsibility of some school districts to fund the needs of these students will be eliminated.
The lone vote against the changes was cast by Commissioner Colleen Callahan, who expressed her concern for the children adversely affected by the board’s decision.
Commissioner Callahan attended each and every hearing on this important matter, while many other board members were frequently absent for the powerful testimony of parents. The vote to accept the Department of Education proposal was a vote to jeopardize the future education of hundreds of special needs students in Catholic schools.
It is unfortunate that the Board of Regents did not completely listen to the powerful and persuasive testimony of parents of special needs students.
They know first-hand the critical need for full and adequate funding for special education, especially in Catholic Schools. They are taxpayers who further make the great sacrifice to send their children to Catholic Schools and rely upon the services provided by local public school districts.
Children should never be treated as simply a budget item to be cut and left on the floor of fiscal debates. Their education is more valuable than any budget can ever begin to justly address. The special needs students of Rhode Island are especially vulnerable to being labeled a budget burden rather than a blessing to our society.
They deserve better than the bureaucrats of the Department of Education and majority of commissioners of the Board of Regents gave them in their vote to change their educational opportunities.
We must now look with hope to Governor Carcieri, Speaker Murphy and President Montalbano and the members of the Rhode Island General Assembly to fairly address this crisis for many Rhode Island families. We urge them to remember that the special needs children must never be left behind.