Good decision, bad implementation

There are arguments to be made on both sides of the controversial decision to teach disabled students at Central Medford High School rather than moving them to the new South Medford campus. On balance, however, it appears the Medford School District made the right call.

What district administrators did not do right was communicate their decision and the reasons behind it in a timely fashion, leading to anger among parents of students in the STEPS program.

The STEPS students, who have a variety of developmental disabilities, had been housed for a number of years at the old South Medford High School, where they were part of a student body of nearly 1,800 students. When the new high school was constructed, district leaders and officials at the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which operates the STEPS program, decided to leave it at the old location and integrate the students into the alternative high school of about 200 students.

Parents, however, were not informed of the decision until August, shortly before classes began. Many had assumed their children would be moving to the new school, and they were justifiably angry at being left out of the loop.

Some parents — and some School Board members, who also were not informed until the last minute — are still angry. The School Board vote last week to leave the STEPS program at Central was 4-3.

But it is important to distinguish between poor communication — a continuing problem in the Medford district — and a poor decision.

Some of the reasons district administrators gave at the time the decision was announced sounded plausible, although parents and advocates for the disabled disagreed.

Educators said the Central students often felt like outcasts in a traditional high school setting, so they would be better able to relate to the STEPS students and act as mentors. Now, with nearly a full school year of experience to judge, it appears that reasoning was sound.

STEPS teacher Jeanne Morgando's remarks about the board decision are especially persuasive. Morgando said she was furious when the decision was first announced last summer, but she now realizes Central is a better place for her students.

Central students, too, are pleased with the decision. They have bonded with the STEPS students — to the point that they voted to select four STEPS students for yearbook honors including "Best Dressed" and "Most Enthusiastic."

It is difficult to imagine that happening at a high school of 1,800 students.

The district is required by law to educate all students, and to accommodate the special needs of children with disabilities. Advocates say the district's approach violates the spirit of that law.

We disagree. It appears the district has made a choice that benefits not only STEPS students but their alternative-school classmates as well.

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