Myths And Truths About Special Education

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, a national conversation is underway about mental illness, personal safety and our education environment. It provides us with an opportunity to look at some myths about special education on a local level, in the context of the Fargo Public Schools.

Myth: Special Education is draining school budgets.
Out of its 10,825 students, Fargo Public Schools serves 1,311 students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that address special needs in the form of services, teaching, or other accommodations. The organization of modern special needs services in K-12 education originates in 1975 with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At the time the law was drafted, it was intended to federally fund those services of school districts by 40 percent. To date, federal support has never exceeded 17 percent, leaving the rest to be funded by state or local sources.

Myth: Special Education is only for the severely disabled.
IDEA classifies 13 categories of special needs. The majority of students in the Fargo Public Schools receiving special education services fall in three of them: learning disabled, speech/language impaired, and “non-categorical delay,” which comprises 3- to 5-year-olds where a diagnosis is too early, but a language, motor or behavior barrier has been verified.

Myth: Special Education can only be performed in a special classroom.
Special education services in the Fargo Public Schools are delivered in all buildings, and all students are included in regular education classes.  The majority of students with IEPs spend less than 40 percent of their day in the special education classroom. Students are most often served by cooperative teaching arrangements with regular and special education staff partners, or by assistance from a special education paraprofessional.

Myth: Special Education students can’t go to college.
This simply isn’t true. While the number is small, Fargo Public Schools does have some of its special needs students go on to attend postsecondary institutions after high school graduation.

Myth: Individuals with autism are unable to build social relationships.
While some individuals on the severe end of the spectrum have difficulty forming social relationships, this is not true for the majority of people on the autism spectrum, especially children.

Myth: Autistic individuals are a danger to society.
In an effort to educate the public about this suggestion, the Autism Society went on record on December 18. Among their key messages are:

  • No evidence exists to link autism and premeditated violence.
  • Those with autism and other disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence.
  • Many with Asperger’s Syndrome who have committed crimes had co-existing psychiatric disorders.
  • Individuals with autism who act aggressively typically do so reacting to a situation.

Myths about special education – whether about services, purpose, or about those who benefit – threaten those services. They originate from low levels of exposure and awareness to those with special needs. In the Fargo Public Schools, the special education environment is designed to be inclusive; teachers, students and administrators believe that students with disabilities are the same as students without them. This value is embedded in the Character goal of the District’s Strategic Plan.