In a story about manifest determination, David Hamilton, WCJB News (Gainesville, FL, USA), reported that two elementary school boys “were arrested for drawing threatening pictures of another student in their class, but because they are Special Needs students.” The idea that third graders would be arrested for such an act merits comment, but this report is noteworthy for another reason as well.
First, let’s just ask how this event rose to the level of a criminal act. Kids draw things and some of the things they draw may be inappropriate. (One has to wonder about the influence of TV news reports on such drawings, no?) By whom were the authorities called? If the call came from the students’ school, what steps were taken before law enforcement was called on this case? How should a reasonably competent educator–general or special–respond to inappropriate drawings by third graders? What are an administrator’s responsibilities in such situations?
Second, this story illustrates the common misunderstanding among lay people about categories of special education. Mr. Hamilton wrote, “Both of the young boys have Attention Deficit Disorder, a learning disability that qualifies them as Special Needs students.” As I understand federal parlance, ADD does not equal LD. People often seem to consider “learning disability” to be a synonym for all categories of special education. It’s not a big mistake, but it does reflect a need for more vigorous public education about disabilities. Sadly, as the results of polls conducted for the Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities reveal, this mistake is made by educators as well as members of the general public