Protect special needs children
Thank you MUSC and The Citadel for sponsoring an area study on bullying as it relates to special needs children.
Federal law, through the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), guarantees special needs children an education in the least restrictive environment. Inclusion is not easy for anyone involved — the school, the parents and the child. But it is the law.
In more cases than not, inclusion is the responsibility of the parents working with the schools. The area that parents cannot control is the actions or lack of actions by other students and their parents. The apathy of other children towards special needs children in the classroom is at the root of bullying.
Federal law gets the kids to the classroom but it is up to a community to support special needs children. The MUSC/Citadel study showed that at the elementary school level, 25 percent of special needs children reported serious victimization as opposed to 4 percent of the control group. The statistic jumps to as much as 41 percent in middle school.
Last month at Moultrie Middle School, a special needs student was expelled for pulling a knife on another student. While that behavior cannot be tolerated, the root of the issue is that the student in question was bullied and was not given proper support, nor was the bully held to task.
The Charleston County School District does have a bullying policy, but it needs to be properly and swiftly implemented.
Providing additional support or escorts is essential for some students as a security factor, but the bottom line is that all children need to be taught about differences and tolerance. The attitude at all school levels has to change to reflect total acceptance. Inclusion is not about babysitting — inclusion is acceptance in the classroom and out of the classroom. We need to change the prevalent climate in our schools and promote social acceptance. Maybe then the Charleston County School District can get rid of escorts.
Daniel Island School, which educates K-8, has a successful parent program called Kindness Kounts that provides valuable insight on all types of disabilities to the entire school body. Coupled with this, there is a Kindness Kids Club for older kids that encourages relationships between typically developing children and special needs children. This club does service projects around the school as well as the community to show that special needs children grow up to be contributing adult members and provide a vital role in the community.
It is only through examples that our children learn about differences. I strongly encourage every parent to talk to their children about "other kids." Have your child stand up for those who don't have as strong a voice on their own. Have your child be a friend to a special needs child, invite them to play, invite them to a party — you and your child will be glad you did.
People standing up for people will help end this momentum that bullying is creating. Reach out and stop it now.
Gene P. Carpenter