WGBH announces a 10-part series on special education in Massachusetts

December 28, 2009 (updated 1/5/10)

Press Contact:
Karen Frascona

WGBH Radio announces 10-part series on special education in Massachusetts
Beginning Monday, January 11, reports air weekdays at 7:35am on 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s NPR Station for News and Culture and WCAI 90.1, 91.1 and 94.3 for the Cape and Islands

WGBH Radio announced today a 10-part special report Educating Everyone: The Struggles and Costs of Special Education in Massachusetts, airing weekdays beginning Monday, January 11 at 7:35am on 89.7 WGBH, Boston’s NPR Station for News and Culture, and WCAI 90.1, 91.1 and 94.3 for the Cape and Islands. A complete archive of each report will be available online at http://www.wgbh.org/897.
Educating Everyone examines the challenges presented in educating special-needs children, following 10 different families in 10 different communities in Massachusetts as they tell their unique stories. Produced by 89.7 interim news director Steve Young, the series is an in-depth examination of the myriad of struggles faced by towns, school districts, parents, and most of all, the disabled children at the center of the issue.
The series is rooted in the passage of a federal law 35 years ago, designed to “mainstream” children with disabilities and “educate everyone.” While the law pledged funding for 40 percent of special education costs, that share has never reached higher than 18 percent. Viewed as one of the largest unfunded mandates in United States history, the mandate has become a burden on every school district in the country. In Massachusetts, individual towns bear nearly the full expense of Special Education, with costs rising to over $100,000 per child in some cases.
Increased needs and shrinking budgets compound the issue across the state. Over the past 20 years, behavioral and developmental disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia have risen significantly. Autism, a rare disease in the 1970s, has seen a dramatic increase; cases of autism have surged from 1 in 10,000 20 years ago to 1 in 150 today. Coupled with a deepening recession that has deceased tax revenues, towns are unable to meet the needs of their communities.
Descriptions of each report follow:

“Starting Out”
Monday, January 11; Reporter: Sean Corcoran
The Johnsons of Marston Mills have a son with developmental disabilities. When he reached school age, they were unaware as to what to expect from the system. They soon got an education.

“Early Intervention”
Tuesday, January 12; Reporter: Cathy Corman
The Amarals of Dartmouth wondered why their infant son was slow to reach significant developmental milestones. Early intervention prior to attending school helped him to exceed expectations.

“New School”
Wednesday, January 13; Reporter: Sean Corcoran
Susan Danton couldn’t get the therapies and help she says her autistic son needed from the school system. So she started her own school, hiring staff and consultants and garnering the proper approvals. Now school is open, and her son is the first student.

“To Advocate or Not?”
Thursday, January 14; Reporter: Cathy Corman
Sometimes things can become heated when parents and school administrators sit down to formulate a plan for a special education student. Is requesting assistance from an educational advocate or a lawyer the right answer? What’s available for parents who need help advocating for their children?

“Endless Battle”
Friday, January 15; Reporter: Sean Corcoran
Jennifer is an assistant Special Education teacher in Harwich; however, despite being a part of the system, she can’t find help for her own child.

“Among the Elite”
Monday, January 18; Reporter: Cathy Corman
Public schools stretch to meet the needs of exceptionally bright students, while also going to great lengths to educate their most severely disabled students. What happens when a student is both exceptionally bright and severely disabled? One Roxbury family experienced this unique challenge.

“Appeals Court”
Tuesday, January 19: Reporter: Sean Corcoran
When parents and school districts find themselves in conflict over what services a child needs and deserves under the law, there is a process available to help reach agreement. The process can go all the way to a state hearing, though most often things are settled before then. In this report, a parent discusses the appeals process.

“Lost in Translation”
Wednesday, January 20: Reporter: Cathy Corman
Families seeking help for children with special educational needs often face significant obstacles. Those obstacles may become insurmountable when families don’t speak English and schools don’t have appropriate interpreting services. Parents originally from China and Puerto Rico describe their feelings of frustration and helplessness in this report.

Thursday, January 21: Reporter: Cathy Corman
The 3400 children born with Down Syndrome each year in the United States are different physically, socially, and intellectually. A generation ago, these children were routinely institutionalized. A family in Westford made sure their daughter was included in a mainstream school since kindergarten.

“Our Children, Our Challenge”
Friday, January 22: Reporter: Sean Corcoran
While parents face challenges compelling school districts to do what’s required of them under the law, districts struggle to fund special education. And that struggle has become more pronounced over the past two years as the state and local budget crises have deepened. School districts talk about the challenges they face as the try to do what’s right by children.


About WGBH
WGBH Boston is America’s preeminent public broadcaster, producing such award-winning PBS series as Masterpiece, Antiques Roadshow, Frontline, Nova, American Experience, Arthur, Curious George, and more than a dozen other prime-time, lifestyle, and children’s series. WGBH’s television channels include WGBH 2/HD and 44, and digital channels World and Create. Local TV productions that focus on the region’s diverse community include Greater Boston, Basic Black, and María Hinojosa: One-on-One. WGBH Radio serves listeners from Cape Cod to New Hampshire with WGBH 89.7, Boston’s NPR Station for News and Culture; 99.5 All Classical; WCAI for the Cape and Islands; WNCK on Nantucket; and the All-Classical WGBH HD channel. WGBH also produces the national radio news program The World. WGBH is a leading producer of online content and a pioneer in developing educational multimedia and new technologies that make media accessible for people with disabilities. Find more information at http://www.wgbh.org.