State Schools Getting Unfair Rap

RECEIVED Wed., May 7, 2008

Dear Editor,
    It really bothers me when I read bad press about state schools (for persons with mental retardation). For drama, the author will take a few isolated examples and generalize these to the whole. But, as a whole, the state schools provide an invaluable service to our most fragile citizens – a service, mind you, that not many are willing or able to provide (including their own families).
    The average resident Joe is provided a safe community-like environment. He has a place to work and opportunities for educational and recreational activities. He has peers with whom he can socialize, and he has a routine which he helped create. His living and medical expenses are completely covered, and he has 24-hour staff ready to care for his needs.
    The average resident Joe is at a facility, for he is also mentally ill or physically challenged to the point that community living is difficult at best. The state schools generally care for the more intensive cases.
    All employees who come in contact with average resident Joe have been screened for criminal backgrounds and gone through a two-week training orientation before providing care. Volunteers are even screened and trained. Every employee is trained at spotting signs of abuse and all are encouraged and expected to report abuse of any form to the authorities.
    So, yes, there may be isolated incidents that get sensationalized, but for the most part, these facilities are adequate and safe, especially when considering the population being served. Also, all are in the process of upgrading services to comply with improved standards.
    What the state schools need now is support in their improvement efforts, not criticism. If this is a cause you are concerned about, then donate your time or money to help out. Improvement projects are currently under way.
Robin McKnight
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