Special education in New York City is in the midst of dramatic growth and change. About 15 percent of the city’s 1.1 million public school students qualify for special education services—a huge population. Today, with new regulations, more of these students are being mainstreamed into general education classrooms rather than being segregated in special education settings. “Disability is…seen as less stigmatizing than it was in the past and [services] can be provided in much more inclusive settings,” said Adelphi University Assistant Professor Valerie Karr, who has worked in numerous special education settings and now teaches fellow educators at Adelphi’s Manhattan Center.
“The field of special education has become highly adaptive to the needs of students and can provide services on a continuum of placement options that range from full inclusion to separate special education settings,” Dr. Karr said. She cited examples ranging from dedicated schools for students with disabilities to contained special education classrooms to general education classrooms that include students with special education needs. Dr. Karr noted that students at Adelphi’s Manhattan Center experience working in these different settings through diverse field work placements.
A staunch advocate for protecting the rights of people with disabilities, Dr. Karr said: “I teach my [Adelphi] students to value each student as if they were their own, and to be open to collaborative teamwork, to empathize with families and to keep an open-minded, can-do attitude.”
Dr. Karr’s own special education research has taken her to multiple countries, and she was recently awarded a grant for her research project, “It’s About Ability: Youth Empowerment Study in Cambodia and Indonesia, the Australian Government’s Overseas Aid Program.”
Dr. Karr appreciates that her Adelphi students face competing demands and pressures and sees Adelphi’s flexible schedules as a valuable asset, especially for the career changers in the program. “In this economy, being able to work and continue your education is key,” Dr. Karr said. “We want to encourage students to follow their passion for teaching, and our program fully supports them.”
By Jeffrey Weisbord