Monday, December 13, 2010
Five years after federal court oversight of Hawaii's special education system was lifted, ending a $1 billion overhaul of programs for disabled students, services for the state's 19,000 special-needs children in public schools are more robust than ever, accounting for more than one-fifth of the state's education budget and employing more than 7,900 people.
Through the last decade, the number of public school students with autism has doubled to more than 1,200 even as the total number of special-needs students has dropped. And some parents say that growth is outpacing increases in services. Those frustrations can be seen in due-process claims parents file when they disagree with the services offered for their child.
Special-needs students in the islands, many of whom have mild learning disabilities or behavioral issues, perform abysmally on state tests overall and are well behind their peers on the mainland. Most spend much or all of their school day outside of general-education classrooms at a far higher rate than the national average.
It's five minutes to lunch, but no one in classroom O-301 -- freshman science at Campbell High -- seems to be watching the clock. Students in small groups cluster around black lab tables, hunching over laptops or furiously finishing poster boards.
Many special-needs youth in Hawaii leave high school ill-equipped for the world and are not linked with services that could help them pursue higher education, secure a job or live independently, say advocates, who want more attention paid to what happens after graduation.
Suzette Farnum loves her son's school. It may not have the best resources, but the teachers and administrators are responsive to her concerns and seem dedicated about getting her son the help he needs, and staff members are consistently updating her on her son's progress.