An emotional response

A pair of bills prompted by a situation involving special education classes in the Medford School District would make an unfortunate situation worse and could force other school districts to spend significant amounts of money they don't have.

The House Education Committee introduced House Bills 2304 and 2305 in response to a decision by Medford administrators to house special education students at the district's alternative Central Medford High School. The students had been housed at the old South Medford High School, but when the new high school was built, district officials decided not to move the classes there.

Some parents of disabled students were upset that their children would no longer be part of the South community.

The problem with the bills in question is that in an attempt to address one issue with one district, they would create new problems for other districts.

One of the classrooms in question, called STEPS, for severely disabled students, is operated by the Southern Oregon Education Service District. Most of the students are from Medford, but some are from other districts.

HB 2304 would require that each district with at least six children needing that kind of instruction provide self-contained special education classes at district campuses.

If the bills pass, the STEPS class now at Central Medford would not simply relocate to South Medford. The students from Medford could move there, but their classmates from other districts would be required to go to their home districts, which would have to hire their own specialists to meet the students' needs.

One Eagle Point administrator estimates his district would have to hire four specialists to accommodate students now served by the ESD program. That's a cost no district is in a position to take on when many are anticipating laying off teachers next year.

Setting up self-contained classrooms for severely disabled students is not a simple matter. Depending on the nature of their disabilities, some students cannot be left alone even for a few minutes during the school day. Accommodating those needs requires specially trained staff and specially designed facilities.

The ESD can consolidate students from multiple districts in one classroom and provide the care and instruction they need in an efficient manner. Individual districts would be hard pressed to provide the same quality instruction for a smaller number of students.

These two bills are well-intentioned, but they are based on emotions, not common sense.

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