Tuesday, January 30, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 30, 2001

Island Voices
'Local' teachers essential to special education

By Garret H. Yanagi
Clinical psychologist

As the controversy in special education approaches near-crisis proportions, its long, unfortunate history covering at least 30 years must not be overlooked.

Countless children have been given short shrift, unable to attain their full potential, being relegated to second-class status.

Back in the early 1960s, the proper education of children with special needs fell between the cracks as both the Departments of Education and Health denied full responsibility for providing much-needed services.

Today, the picture has changed for the better, courtesy of Felix vs. Cayetano; however, it is still far short of the goals because of the shortage of qualified teachers. How did we sink into this morass?

Let’s start with the special-education teachers. They have never quite been given the attention and recognition they deserve. Their morale sank, they burned out and they deserted in droves.

Contrast this with the high monetary awards given to teachers of highly motivated, high-achieving students who received national recognition. And now, to add insult to injury, the superintendent of education sees fit to enlist Mainland teachers at $100,000 per head.

How shortsighted and foolhardy can this be? The true value of teaching special-needs children has always embraced the most fundamental ingredients of permanence, continuity and consistency. Only locally bred, dedicated teachers who know the diverse cultures and ways of these children (including the use of pidgin English, popular Hawaiian words and heavily accented immigrant speech) can provide this kind of quality teaching.

Give them what they deserve, at least higher salaries (from the $100,000 pot), and see them return from their current hiatus. All they need is incentive.

It’s time the superintendent recognized this and stopped acting like a Mainland consultant who arrives upon this "provincial" scene with all the answers.

Today’s crisis could have been averted if only the special needs were addressed and dealt with many years ago. But the situation is still not unresolvable. At this critical time, we need courageous decisions based on well-thought-out, common-sense judgment by the leadership rather than hasty, ill-advised, expedient, knee-jerk ones to the court suit.

Having worked with these special-needs children throughout my career, I empathize with their teachers and feel they deserve better.

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