Parents say special ed programs don't make the grade - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Parents say special ed programs don't make the grade

HAWAII KAI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Gracie McComas is a first grader at Kamiloiki School. She's 8 years old and has Down Syndrome.

Gracie's mom, Maureen, says her daughter is happy and bright and loves to be in school -- but she's not learning.

"Her recent report card showed no progress. We're talking about the core subjects, math, reading, writing, even science and social studies," she said.

Most of the day, Gracie is in a classroom with non-special needs kids, under a program called "inclusion." The McComas's want that, but they think Gracie's teachers aren't properly prepared to help Gracie.

"The teachers just don't have an understanding of how to differentiate the work for children like Gracie that need it broken down a little bit," McComas said.

Advocates have raised concerns about Hawaii's inclusion practices.

The biggest problem is that it's not being done enough: Just 36 percent of special education students attend a regular classroom for 80 percent of the school day. That's compared to 62 percent nationally.

But parents and advocates say there are concerns that when inclusion does happen, special education kids might not be getting the individualized attention they need.

DOE assistant Superintendent Suzanne Mulcahy oversees the special education program, and said hiring, retaining and training special education teachers are paramount to improving the system.

"There isn't a teacher that does not want to have an inclusive classroom. I really believe that," she said. "But I think we do have teachers who aren't really sure what that is and how to do it."

McComas believes Kamiloiki's principal is trying to improve the school's special education program, but she's disappointed in what's being delivered.

"We don't get any work sent home. We don't get any work samples home and we don't have an understanding of what's taking place in the classroom," she said.

The McComas's work with Gracie at home and are confident of her capabilities.

"What we see is that taught in very specific ways that are individualized to her learning style she is able to pick these things up and retain them," McComas said.

McComas will meet with the principal and Gracie's teachers on Friday, their fourth meeting since November. 

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