In response to a recent Carolina Journal opinion piece written by Glen Stephens, who acknowledges the poor record of North Carolina’s services to its academically and physically challenged students, let me say, I share your frustration.

I have a child with developmental and academic challenges. Public schools could not accommodate my child’s unique learning needs, so I chose homeschooling. Firsthand, I know the energy and determination needed to ensure children’s individual needs are met through a specialized academic program.

I talked to parents and teachers of exceptional students to better understand North Carolina’s public schools’ programming. Parents’ biggest complaint about public schools is that they do not adequately challenge their children.

It is well known that a lack of academic challenge during critical developmental phases can stunt students’ acquisition of skills and knowledge, regardless of their disability. Without the appropriate level of challenge, students become bored, disengaged, and lose the motivation to excel. Ultimately, the lack of challenge in public schools can stagnate the growth and development of exceptional learners.

One key aspect that emerged from my conversations with special-education experts is the importance of teacher training. This includes understanding different learning styles, implementing appropriate accommodations, and creating a nurturing and inclusive environment that fosters student growth and development. Teachers may struggle to meet exceptional learners’ diverse needs without adequate training, leading to frustration and lack of support.

Another concern parents of exceptional learners share is that they do not feel heard or that school administrators take their concerns seriously. Some parents feel they are not given the same opportunities to engage with teachers and principals as parents of typical learners.  

To foster better communication, perhaps non-profits that specialize in helping families with special needs children can help build bridges. School districts can partner with organizations to conduct workshops with staff and parents on effective communication strategies for use during teacher conferences and IEP team meetings.

A key role of the superintendent of public instruction is to assist the State Board of Education in reviewing, evaluating, and revamping the Exceptional Children Division of the Department of Public Instruction. This includes addressing teacher training, improving communication between parents and school administrators, and partnering with non-profit organizations to build bridges and foster better understanding.

Smart reforms at the Department of Public Instruction can better help North Carolina’s 203,000 exceptional learners and their families succeed by providing them access to more resources and support.