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Most parents just want a school in the neighborhood

Re: Will choice segregate schools?, Feb. 27.

I strongly agree with those parents who are outraged because their children cannot attend two new neighborhood schools with empty seats in St. Petersburg next year. Those who believe attracters are going to bring north county students south are not living in the real world. The vast majority of parents want one thing, to send their children to neighborhood schools!

The past three years, I drove my daughter to a middle school 18 miles across town. The long commute made it difficult to participate in after-school activities, attend sporting events or spend time with friends. After a long day, it is exhausting and unreasonable to expect students to spend valuable time in traffic. Currently, my daughter attends high school "on the corner." The lesson this parent learned is that being part of the school is just as important as going to school.

Deborah Ray, Clearwater

Separate will never be equal

People must realize that dropping racial quotas will cause segregated schools once again. Many people have voiced their opinion of "so what, my child should go to the neighborhood school." As much as we may like to see that happen in a perfect world, we live in an imperfect world. As a teacher of Florida history, I try to tell my students that we study history in order to learn from the past. We learn what went right and what went wrong.

Take a close look at the civil rights movement. Did we not learn that separate schools are never going to be equal? Did we not learn that separating the races created a situation of violence and mistrust?

There is no way, in my opinion, that dropping the racial quotas and still trying to keep some form of integrated schools would ever work. We must look at the past and learn from it. To all the parents who are not happy with the current school choice plan, please reconsider the consequences of going to separate schools. Separate schools will never be equal, even if they get the same amount of money from the state and district.

Joe Browne, ESE/Florida History, Largo Middle School

All schools should have same quality

Re: A lot of money for little results, letter, March 1.

The letter writer's reasoning for scrapping the quota system is the most logical one. He hit the nail on the head when hs spoke of "having the best possible blend of home and school life." This cannot be attained by being forced to send your child miles away to a school just because he or she is the wrong race/color or whatever to attend the school that is right across the street.

My children are all grown now and my daughter is already shopping for a school for her son, who is only 3. Incidentally she is shopping for a private school, which she probably will have difficulty paying for.

Isn't it a shame that the public system is so messed up that people have to take money out of their own pocket to provide a good education for their children? All of us are paying taxes to support schools, not just the ones who have kids in school. If the taxes were spread evenly among the schools then every school could offer the same quality of education to all, and there would be no need to "shop" for a school for your child.

Mrs. Don Merritt Sr., Seminole

Need for quotas has passed

I remember several years ago speaking with a parent regarding her children being bused many miles away from home, to a school that needed to satisfy racial quotas. She put it best when she said that we no longer need to force integration through the schools. She provided many examples of how her children mingle and socialize with children of all races, and in a natural setting, throughout their daily activities outside of school.

Especially considering the decline in revenue, it does appear that where our schools are concerned, less could have been more, a lot more! But now that the "choice train" has left the station, it is anybody's guess what might have been had the School Board listened to that mother's simple wisdom. While the economic pie was shrinking they were baking pie in the sky.

Jim Duffey, St. Petersburg

Good integrated neighborhoods

Re: Fears are not imagined, letter.

I cannot let the perpetuated myth pertaining to south St. Petersburg's schools go unchallenged. The March 1 letter states: "A drive through an area within a three-block radius of any of the south St. Petersburg schools will reveal streets littered with debris, neglected homes and lawns, drug dealers and prostitutes."

If and when the letter writer comes to the area he will find Lakewood High School, Bay Vista Elementary, Bay Point Elementary, Bay Point Middle and Maximo Elementary, all surrounded by areas such as Lakewood Estates, Maximo, Broadwater, Bahama Shores and the Pinellas Point area. These are all beautiful areas where the quality of life is good, crime is low and integration thrives.

Julius R. Ricks, south St. Petersburg

Special needs students poorly served

Re: Special needs classrooms feel sting of lost funding, March 5, by Monique Fields, which I was interviewed for.

The issues that led to our decision to take the McKay Scholarship and put our daughter in private school were not due to district funding. Our decision was due to the Pinellas County School District's ignorance about and inappropriate attitude toward our daughter's disability, which is autism, and the district's complete failure in providing our daughter a free and appropriate public education, which is her civil right under federal law. We decided to take action and place Kayla in a learning environment that appropriately addressed her educational needs, that had knowledgeable and qualified staff, and that was not destructive to her self-esteem and emotional well-being.

Often, as in the case of my daughter, the children's disabilities are used as an excuse as to why they are unsuccessful in the public school system. In reality, it is often the inappropriate services that are provided to these children that are the reason. There are often unknowledgeable, unqualified teachers teaching ESE (exceptional student education) students, and school administration and school personnel are not held accountable when they violate children's' rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is federal law.

Children with disabilities who might otherwise obtain a standard diploma are being forced on a special diploma track. These children will have great difficulty obtaining employment with a special diploma and will ultimately cost the taxpayers more money in the long run when they have to support these children for the rest of their lives. The McKay scholarship does not take money away from other children in the school district. ESE students receive federal and state funding specifically for ESE students in public school. All federal funding and 90 percent of state money that is for ESE students can only be used for ESE students. Only state funding that is provided to these students is used for McKay.

The children generate the money based on the services they require as a result of their disabilities. Since the district no longer has the expense of these children, it is not entitled to receive the funding that is used for them.

These children are entitled to be respected as people with feelings, not as labels, and they have the same rights as children without disabilities to receive an appropriate education. These children have already been victims of the public school district and do not need to be made the scapegoats for why the district is failing in its legal responsibility in providing a free and appropriate education to the children remaining in public schools.

Reem Tarantino, Tarpon Springs

Don't blame McKay students

Monique Fields' article, Special needs classrooms feel sting of lost funding (March 5) gives the impression ESE students are responsible for the public school system's financial troubles and the dismissal of 400 aides. Not so!

All ESE children are entitled to respect and an appropriate education. Many ESE students can earn standard diplomas in a regular classroom with appropriate supports. The Pinellas County public school system needs to present a proper setting for and attitude toward ESE students if they wish them to stay.

Urgent attention needs to be paid to these issues, among others:

1. Lack of training of school personnel to appropriately work with the specific disabilities of each ESE student.

2. Lack of physical accommodations and services required for ESE students.

3. Unwillingness and inability to implement each ESE child's individualized education plan in a timely manner.

4. Inappropriate negative attitudes toward ESE students.

The overall result of the school system's treatment of ESE children is that the civil rights of ESE children are being violated and the system is in violation of federal law. Furthermore, school personnel are not held accountable for these children not receiving the free and appropriate public education to which they are entitled nor for their demeaning treatment of some ESE children.

Parents are using the McKay Scholarship to educate their ESE children properly. The funding an ESE student takes to a private school is state ESE funding that has been allocated for an ESE child according to that child's needs. A public school has no right to these funds if they are not educating that child. Furthermore, the public schools complain they have a shortage of aides with which to serve those children requiring them, so why are they cutting these positions? According to federal law, if a child needs a service in order to be provided with an appropriate education, the district has to provide that service. Don't blame the McKay ESE students for the public school system's financial problems.

Diane Zein, Tarpon Springs

School support is missing

Re: Special needs classrooms feel sting of lost funding.

What is the Pinellas County school district's excuse for inappropriate support for its ESE students before the McKay Scholarship became an option? I am a parent of a 7-year-old with autism. The Pinellas County school administration acknowledges that "Autism is behaviorally defined." With that fact, where are the behavioral supports? They are nonexistent! This district acknowledges having 13 to 15 psychologists, none of whom have backgrounds in autism. Our children require certified behavior analyst professionals _ that know how to analyze and modify human behavior _ to enable them to be successful. They require support of assistants when warranted. This is an entitlement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Pinellas County school district seems to have lost sight of the objective: to provide appropriate support for the student, not how far can this district cut back on supports and remain legally defensible. Parents of ESE children should have zero tolerance for zero accountability .

Debora Gandee, St. Petersburg

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