Examining best practices and challenges for special education students in our region is the topic of a day-long seminar in Buffalo. The 'Birth to Work Special Education Summit' is being held in the WNED/WBFO studio, featuring top New York State Education Department (NYSED) leaders.
Catherine Gura, President of The Children's Guild Foundation, opened Tuesday's 'Birth to Work Summit'. The organization partnered with the State Education Department, the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation.
Three deputy education commissioners appearing in Buffalo Tuesday for the event. Deputy Commissioners Angelica Infante Green, Kevin Smith and John A'Agati.
Western New York New York State Regent Representative Catherine Collins also participating in Tuesday's Summit. Each addressed local educators and parents from across the region attending prior to break-out sessions.
Green is both an educator and parent of a special education student. Her 8-year-old son has autism and is bilingual. Green refers to him and other special education students as 'differently-abled'.
"So you will never, ever, ever hear me say 'disabled children'. What does the suffix 'dis' mean? Can't! I'll be dammed if someone tells me my kid can't do something, so the language I will use moving forward is differently-abled," stated Green.
In the Buffalo Public School District, where many students are immigrants and refugees, and speak two languages, Green stressed the importance of those who are special education students be allowed bilingual help.
"When you're bilingual, you don't automatically know things in two languages," noted Green.
Green's son has been evaluated in both Spanish and English. "I want us to think out of the box," Green told attendees.
Green also pointed out that one out of eight students is being diagnosed on the 'spectrum' every day.
Deputy Education Commissioner Kevin Smith is responsible for vocational rehabilitation services. Smith stressed the importance of employing the disabled.
Smith suggested offering employers incentives and demands, perhaps even tax breaks for those who employed the disabled.
"This is our reality folks. Differntly-abled are the largest minority population in the country. There employment rates hover, forever, in the mid 30-percent, 30-percent, it's a national disgrace," explained Smith.
The discussion also hit on the difficult district budgets in trying to pay for the needed special education services. But the state leaders encouraged the local attendees to call on their local politicians asking to help sustain programs and services in schools.
Regent Collins said the need to help the students transition from school into adulthood. "We also know a well-planned and managed transition to adult life and services, including career and employment, is an ultimate goal," stated Collins.