The difficulty of putting the principle behind disability protection laws into practice
Because rules are meant to be broken.
Remember when you were a kid, or just watch your own kids. Rules are meant to be pushed, negotiated, and stretched. The rule of eating only in the tiled area seems to clearly enforce the principle of protecting the carpet from food spills. Suddenly, my children are standing on the very edge of the tile, eating and dripping onto the carpet. The rule hasn’t been broken but the principle has been violated.
This exemplifies my struggles with legislation and ESE legislation in particular. Legislation is an important tool. However, I do not believe you can ever legislate principles. Principles are the inspiration behind legislation. The struggle is always in the practice. When compliance with legislation is the goal, the principle is quickly lost and often violated. Principle, not solely legislation compliance ought to be the inspiration behind the day to day decisions.
How to hire an ESE teacher?
This struggle has played out in real life at our local high school. There is a running joke that the pre-requisite to being an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) teacher at our local high school is coaching ability.
There were two openings at the local high school. One was an opening for an ESE teacher. The other was for the head basketball coaching position.
The basketball coach had resigned at the beginning of the summer. One of the long time assistant coaches had been running the summer practices. This assistant coach was a local man but not a teacher. He worked in the community, had attended our local high school as a teenager, coached in the community and worked as an assistant coach in the high school basketball program for six years. He applied for the head coach job when it became available.
The school guidelines don’t specifically prohibited hiring non-teachers as coaches. However, it does encourage hiring a teacher as a coach. The principle: Sports programs are part of the children’s education, therefore the coach is an educator. Sports are to be used to teach more important life lessons not just how to win games in a particular sport. Some of the lessons you learn in sports can help you academically and help you become a well rounded individual.
The former assistant coach knew that that he was not specifically eliminated from being considered for the position and hoped his history with the program would be speak on his behalf.
All through the summer there was speculation about the new coach. There were two main contenders, the former assistant coach and a teacher from out-of-state. The out-of-state teacher had previously worked at another local high school for 6 years before leaving the state. He has friends in the area. He was certified in one ESE area and had taught one ESE class previously.
Locally, we currently have an unemployment rate that tops 15-18%. The high school should have their pick of highly qualified ESE teachers. I hoped they would higher an ESE teacher with multiple ESE certifications, a person passionate about advocating for and assisting ESE children. I hoped for the kind of ESE teachers I have met before, spending their summers learning new and innovative methods of connecting with and assisting their students. A person who went to college specifically to help the needy ESE population. Since ESE is a program populated by some of the most vulnerable and at risk kids, the principle should be to find the best qualified ESE teacher available. Period. Honoring that principle is what the ESE population deserves.
They hired the out-of-state teacher to coach. To contribute to his salary he was also hired to teach the ESE class and a science class. I find this outrageous.
According to guidelines and legislation the best hire was the teacher over the non-teacher. However, from the perspective of finding a great ESE teacher this is a horrible decision.
Imbalance in the cost
ESE is populated by children at risk of not graduating. These are often times children whose parents don’t have the resources for private intervention. For these children and their families the choice isn’t about whether or not they can become well rounded by playing a sport, it is about whether they will have the basic educational skills needed to succeed in life.
Instead of using the ESE teacher position and budgeted salary to provide the best possible education for these at risk kids, the local school has used it to provide a coach for a basketball team. The guideline, hiring a teacher as a coach, was followed but the principle regarding ESE education was violated.
My stand is that they should go without a coach before they hire someone for an ESE program simply because he can also coach.
However, going without a coach rarely has to be the case. Although budget issues can make if difficult to field a coach without them teaching as well, this situation had a simple solution. There was already another coach with another source of income in the community and even already in place in the basketball program. They could have simply given the limited coaching salary to the assistant coach without any change to their budget. Then the ESE salary could be used to its fullest potential. Alternatively, they could have offered the out-of-state teacher the science teacher position and coaching while preserving the ESE salary for a better qualified individual.
This would be sad if it was an isolated incident. However, this same school hired a woman for an ESE position who had no ESE certifications. She simply took the certification courses after she got the job (again, a process allowed by the legislation). She never ended up teaching an ESE class. Instead she acted as an Athletic Equipment Director, running errands for the football coach and taking care of the equipment. When legislation is all there is, principles are violated.
Living by Principle?
So what do we do? Can we balance both these aspects of school life? Legislate that no ESE teacher can coach, thereby eliminating the possibility of schools using ESE budgeting to fund sports programs? While this is a possibility, what about the scenario in which a dedicated ESE teacher happens to also be a great coach? Are forced to risk eliminating that option because there are administrators out there willing to violate principles?
Or is there something we can do as parents, individuals in our community to take a stand that prevents this from happening? Maybe openness in the hiring process and a community who educates themselves about what is going on in their schools would make a difference. Knowing the history and values of the School Board members we elect is key.
Since Academic Eligibility is a pre-requisite to sports there is usually a separation in the school population between those involved in sports and those in the ESE. Most of the students and families that participate in sports are not impacted by what goes on in the ESE classrooms. Many don’t even know what ESE education is. Most parents, if asked, would agree that the school should hire the best qualified teachers for the programs that assist the neediest kids. However, the qualities of these ESE teachers don’t directly impact their families. As a result, many parents who support the sports programs through their participation are, at best, unaware of the impact on the ESE program. Often times when they know, they don’t care enough to do anything. This allows these practices to continue with little uproar.
When we trade our own comfort and care only about the aspects of life that directly impact us we loose the quality of our community and ultimately our own life. By ignoring violation of the principles we say we believe in, we set up practices that may someday cost our own family.