Sunday, February 16, 2014

Staten Island Regent Christine Cea is NOT "the Voice of Disabilities"

By Bianca Tanis

As of Tuesday, 2/11, Members of the NYS Assembly completed interviews of both new and incumbent candidates for the 4 positions that are up for re-appointment on the NYS Board of Regents. In light of the failure of the Board of Regents to heed parent concerns, coupled with a Regents Task Force Report that is at best misinformed and at worst duplicitous, the legislature must elect new leadership to the Board. When the legislators vote to decide who will fill these 4 spots on March 11th, parents and educators will be watching.

Parents of students with disabilities have been vocally opposed to not only the flawed implementation of the CCLS, but also the deep flaws within the standards themselves and the ways in which they promote poor instructional practice for special education students.  One of the Regents up for reappointment is Christine Cea, the Regent from Staten Island who calls herself the “voice of disabilities.” You can watch her interview with members of the Assembly Education Committee here.

There is little doubt that as a parent of a child with a disability and a researcher for the New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities , Regent Cea has the best intentions. However, after watching her interview, it is difficult to believe that she is the most qualified person to represent the educational needs of students with disabilities in New York. 

Regent Cea side stepped questions and gave vague, general answers. When asked where in her opinion, special education is going and what direction it should take, Ms. Cea offered the less than insightful response, “We are seeing great strides in getting people independent and doing more and more.” When asked what she hopes to accomplish in her next term if elected, Regent Cea responded, “I moved very comfortably into the spot of being the disability voice and I just hope to do more…I hope to take this transition piece (transition to the CC) and make it into something special.” Special?

Perhaps most disturbing was Regent Cea’s complete and utter lack of understanding of the ways in which the CCLS are impacting students with disabilities in the classroom. Consider the following exchange between Assemblyman Ed Ra and Regent Cea:

Assemblyman Ra: “How can we better facilitate for our parents and teachers how the Common Core is supposed to mesh with the IEP?”

Regent Cea: “I visit the Hungerford School on Staten Island that is all disabilities, quite severe disabilities. I haven’t seen them do the Common Core yet, but I see how they adapt whatever kids are learning. I have a health curriculum that they are using, and they adapt it to every level and every kid, every student participates”

“I think that teachers are very creative in the field of disability and know their students wonderfully. So I think that the common core is just a set of standards that needs to be adjusted by the teacher for the certain student (sic). Our students with disabilities…there’s such a great variability of ability and disability that it’s very difficult to ‘one size fits all (sic).’ “

“I think that the IEP and the standards are the same because the IEP has standards on it already. The standards that we are proposing are a little different, but they can be adapted because the IEP is individualized.”

Regent Cea has a very na├»ve perception as to just how much impact and influence the standards have. Or perhaps it would be more correct to say that she has no understanding of how tying a teacher’s evaluation to test scores based on the teaching of “just a set of standards,” a test that does make allowances for a teacher’s judicious “adjustments,” truly is. Even more mind-boggling is Regent Cea’s assertion that “the IEP and the standards are the same because the IEP has standards on it already.” First and foremost, while the IEP can be individualized, the standards cannot. Secondly, an IEP is not made up of standards, but of individual learning goals, with emphasis on the word individual.

Parents of students with disabilities have serious misgivings about an individual calling herself “the voice of disabilities,” while simultaneously signing off on something as discriminatory and offensive as New York State’s new CDOS Commencement Credential. This credential automatically identifies its bearer as a person with a disability -- in order to use it, a young man or woman must be willing to sacrifice their privacy and dignity. Regent Cea, “the voice of disabilities,” finds this acceptable. As a parent of a child with special needs, I do not.

I hope that more parents will take the time to watch these interviews. Our elected officials must be made aware that these videos are a part of the public record, and that IF they vote to keep these four individuals, their constituents will be watching. We will know exactly who and what they voted for.  

You can see a side by side comparison of Regent Cea’s interview and the interviews of several new Board of Regents applicants hereWho would you choose to make decision for your child’s education?

Bianca Tanis is a parent and a special education teacher in the Hudson Valley.

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