Special-Education Column

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The broadcast last month of "Educating Peter,'' the Academy Award-winning documentary about a child with Down's syndrome who makes the transition to a regular classroom, prompted some criticism from several national education organizations.

The film won an Oscar in April for best documentary short subject. (See Education Week, April 7, 1993.) It was shown last month on the pay-cable channel Home Box Office.

Both the American Federation of Teachers and the Council for Exceptional Children separately issued press releases suggesting that the film told only part of Peter Gwadauskis's story.

They said the documentary failed to point out, for example, that the boy spent at least an hour a day with a disability specialist, that his teacher had a full-time aide, and that there were only 19 students in his class. Such supports were key to Peter's success but are often absent in schools, the organizations said.

"Thousands of teachers nationwide are being thrown into frustrating situations in which school systems rush to include disabled children into regular classes without proper planning or support services, possibly to save money,'' the A.F.T. stated in its press release."Often, the good intentions have become a formula for failure.''

Produced by the Washington, D.C., filmakers Gerardine Wurzburg and the late Thomas C. Goodwin, "Educating Peter'' tracks Peter's experiences over the course of a year as he moved from a special-education school to a regular 3rd-grade classroom in Blacksburg, Va.

A report released last month by the National Mental Health Association suggests that fewer than half of the nation's emotionally disturbed children are being identified in schools and are receiving appropriate services.

Among the states, the report says, Mississippi identifies the smallest percentage of emotionally disturbed students. Only 0.03 percent of students in that state are identified as seriously emotionally disturbed (S.E.D.), compared with as many as 2.14 percent of Connecticut students.

National studies, however, suggest that the percentage of S.E.D. children in schools ranges between 2 percent and 5 percent.

The mental-health association's report also points out that emotionally disturbed students fail more frequently, have the highest dropout rates among students with disabilities, are more prone to become involved in the criminal-justice system, and have difficulty finding jobs.

To order copies of the report contact the National Mental Health Association, 1021 Prince St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-2971.--D.V.

Vol. 12, Issue 36

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