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Does "meaningful" education entail picking up trash?

Readers of our San Diego special education blog at The Law Office of Meagan Nunez know how consistently we sound one central refrain that is fundamentally relevant to any special education setting or issue.

And that is this, as we duly note on our website: "Every child deserves a meaningful education."

That means many things, of course, and can only be determined through the close and considered evaluation of a young person and his or her particular needs.

Here's a pointed question: Does meaningful learning attach to garbage duty?

That is essentially what one high school senior -- who is not in a special education program -- is asking presently, with her spotlight on certain activities involving only special ed students at her school raising questions regarding special education's rationale and parameters.

As noted in a recent media article, that student (who attends a high school near Sacramento) has long noticed that special ed students routinely spend a portion of each school day "picking up trash, washing windows, and sorting recyclables." Such tasks are done only by special ed students, with so-called "typically-developing" students being exempt from such duties and able to "sit in their classes, learning."

That distinction bothers the senior, who recently wrote an op/ed on the practice for a local paper and is garnering signatures on a petition that opposes the practice.

She calls the notably disparate treatment "demeaning," stating that it stamps a badge of inferiority on special ed students.

School authorities disagree, countering that the tasks teach "soft skills" such as following rules and being timely regarding recurring duties.

In select instances, learning those skills might be beneficial.

Coming to that conclusion, though, would seem to be necessarily preceded by a comprehensive individual educational assessment, not by blanket participation of one particular group, and only members of that group.

Understandably, the senior's close focus on the differentiated treatment could engender a high degree of public scrutiny, with attendant debate on what truly constitutes meaningful education.

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