Thursday, September 20, 2007

Julia's Musings: School Overcrowding Affects Special Needs Class

Our state has been experiencing rapid growth, and no where is this more evident than in our state’s classrooms.
A recent story on ABC 11 news shows us school overcrowding at its worse. (http://abclocal.go.com/wtvd/story?section=triangle&id=5652457)

Davis Drive Elementary School in Cary is so overcrowded that they converted an accessible bathroom into a classroom for special needs children. Yes, the toilet was still in the classroom, hidden by a blue screen.

Children with special needs are often placed in segregated, self-contained classrooms, where they receive all of their instruction. Due to overcrowding in this school, that environment became an accessible bathroom. Children with special needs are among our most vulnerable population. To think that the best solution available for our schools is to use handicap accessible bathrooms as classrooms speaks to the seriousness of our current situation. The Arc of Wake County spoke with Davis Drive's principal, Pat Andrews, who stated that the special needs class has since been moved to a PE area for instruction. However, a PE area is still not a classroom. Principal Andrews also explained that her school's overcrowding has affected other classes: an art class has taken up residence in another accessible bathroom and a gifted class is being taught in a closet. Although, we are happy to hear that the special needs class is no longer in a bathroom, the reality is that no students should be using a bathroom or a closet as a classroom.

Davis Drive Elementary school was built to hold 630 pupils. Trailers, or “learning cottages”, recently added to the campus brought the maximum head count to 930 students. Currently there are 1037 children attending Davis Drive. That is 107 above maximum capacity. This is not an isolated situation. Throughout Wake county, schools are dealing with overcrowding.

Here are some statistics: (WCPSS http://www.wcpss.net/growth/ )

-WCPSS student population has doubled since 1985 and another 130,000 students are projected by the year 2025.
-WCPSS is the second largest school system in North Carolina and the 23rd largest district in the United States.
-Next year, the student population is expected to increase by 7,000 students.
-The school system is currently using more than 1,000 mobile/modular classrooms; this number will increase by at least 100 for the 2006 school year.
-One of every four elementary school students is in a temporary mobile/modular classroom.
-Relative to goals established by the school board, WCPSS is short 15,000 classroom seats today, and will need 58,000 seats by 2010 and 91,000 seats by 2015.
-Since 2000, more than 57,000 single-family housing permits have been issued in Wake County.
-At $0.604, Wake County has the lowest property tax rate of the largest school districts in the state.
-It takes property taxes from two new homeowners to cover the cost of one new student.
-It takes only six to nine months to build the average house in Wake County. However, it takes 14 months to build an elementary school, 19 months for a middle school and 26 months for a high school.

A quick check of this year’s state budget shows no appropriations for school construction. As always, this will be the responsibility of counties. Legislators did act this year to remove the county share of Medicaid so that money normally spent on county health care could be redirected to support school construction. Let’s hope that plan works. A child being taught in an accessible bathroom or a closet is simply inexcusable. We have to do better.


Additional Links:
The Arc of Wake County
http://www.arcwake.org/

1 comment:

Steve said...

According to today's news, Wake County Public School System is the largest school system in North Carolina surpassing the Charlotte Mecklenburg school system by about 2,500 students. As the largest school system, WCPSS must work more closely with the parents in this school system to find better solutions that placing students in bathrooms as classrooms and complementing the principal on her creativity.