Testimony on Special Education before District of Columbia Council

Published April 1, 1999

“I am the product of a failing special education system.”

“My name is Saundra Lemons. I am a senior at Coolidge High School with enough credits to graduate in June. . . . My dream is to play basketball in college, and a number of recruiters have met with me. Unfortunately, my dream might not come true because I read on the fourth-grade level. I am the product of a failing special education system.

” . . . I really feel as though no one really cares. If they did care, I would be reading a lot better than on the fourth-grade level. I worked hard on my own to get to the fourth-grade level. I believe I can read if I am taught in the right way. . . .

“I am testifying here today to tell you that special education kids can’t wait five years for help. The school system needs to be on top of this now. I feel as though I have wasted a whole lot of time. A lot of kids are not getting help for their disabilities. They are getting messed over.

” . . . One of the biggest problems is that school people think special education kids are dumb. They think we don’t know what we should be getting, but we do. I recognize what is really going on, and I have to speak out, not only for me, but for all the kids who need help now. This can’t go on any further.

“No matter how good I play basketball, my reading will prevent me from making it through college and succeeding in life. I want to be a proud and successful black woman who can read. Please, please make it right for kids like me.

Editor’s note: The District of Columbia’s public school system has a budget of $575 million for 77,111 students, or $7,457 per pupil. Special education students make up roughly 10 percent of the district enrollment and cost nearly $170 million, or approximately $22,000 per special education student. The balance of the budget and enrollment works out to approximately $5,800 per regular student.

From Saundra Lemon’s testimony before the DC Council committee hearing on special education on February 18, 1999.