Tuesday, October 14, 1997

Board debates focus on special ed: Members also question the impact of computers on education at West Boulevard and Field elementary schools

Published in the Columbia Missourian; co-written with Winston Ross

Tensions ran high at the three-and-a-half hour Columbia Board of Education meeting Monday night.

The agenda item to cause the most debate was the district's special education policies. This year, the federal government mandated that students in special education be disciplined with more leniency than others.

"I think we need to help all the students who have a real desire to be educated," board member Elton Fay said, rather than spend large sums of money on students with serious discipline problems.

Board member David Ballenger said before deciding that serious discipline problems reflect a lack of desire to be educated, administrators should understand all factors that influence behavior.

"Before we make a decision on writing anyone off, we need to make sure we understand the students' individual needs," Ballenger said.

Board member Lynnanne Baumgardner was unsure whether understanding the students' needs would be enough.

"Can we fix all these problems even when we know what they are?" she asked. Fay noted that this year the district hired the equivalent of 12 full-time teachers for special education, without adding any faculty members for "regular" students.

In another debate, board members approved an application for a grant to fund computer equipment at Field and West Boulevard elementary schools.

If the grant application is selected through a statewide competition, there will be three computers with Internet access and a color printer in every first-, second- and third-grade classroom at both schools. Winning schools will have the grant money in time for the spring semester.