To the editors:

In his feature on the benefits of mainstreaming (“Out of Exile and Into Oblivion?,” July 16), Robert McClory seriously misrepresented a series I wrote for the Tribune.

Since he called it a five-part series, I’m assuming McClory didn’t read the whole thing. He quoted a school official who said I was “inaccurate and misleading.” How so? Bob only knows. The official suggested that I reported that the Board of Education was “dumping” disabled kids into regular classrooms and “closing down all the separate special-ed classes.”

I did not report that the Board is closing down all special-ed classes, or make reference to “dumping,” or any such deliberate policy of ignoring the rights of disabled kids.

“Jackson also claimed that some children are deliberately labeled inaccurately to justify their transfer from segregated settings into neighborhood schools,” McClory wrote.

In fact, I reported on the individual case of one child whose records were altered for reasons that were “unexplained,” and said school officials were investigating the case.

McClory said I quoted “a” principal and “a” teacher who voiced concerns about the Board’s mainstreaming program. I quoted several teachers and principals who said they were not given enough support to cope with the influx of mentally disabled kids, and interviewed scores who expressed similar concerns.

McClory described my series as a “portrait of large numbers of misplaced students running amok in the schools.”

I reported that the number of Chicago children diagnosed with cognitive and emotional disabilities rose 8 percent in the last five years, while the total enrollment dropped 2 percent. The escalation was fueled by measurable increases in children’s exposure to poverty, family breakup, violence, and parental drug abuse, studies show. At the same time, the resources to heal and teach these kids have been ratcheted down or failed to keep pace. I reported that mentally disabled Chicago public school students are taught in facilities that use locked “time-out” booths; four kids escape each week from Illinois’ largest children’s asylum; abuse and neglect there is hardly investigated. In addition to the 35,000 Chicago schoolchildren now identified as having mental disabilities, some 15,000 to 40,000 more drift uncounted through the city’s classrooms, studies and interviews showed. The teachers, social workers, and psychologists who labor in Chicago’s overcrowded, cash-strapped inner-city schools say they must have help to do what everybody wants them to do: integrate these children fully with their nondisabled peers. That is what I reported.

David Jackson

Chicago Tribune

Robert McClory replies:

I would like to note that the official David Jackson refers to was clearly identified in my story as Charlene Green, the board’s associate superintendent for special education, and her charge that the series was “inaccurate” and “misleading” was published in the Chicago Tribune with a lengthy explanation of her views. She expressed similar sentiments when I interviewed her. It was not my intention to reopen a debate on the Tribune series but to indicate the existence of severe differences of opinion on Chicago public-school integration policy. In her letter Green took exception to, among other things, Jackson’s report that 78 percent of Chicago’s special education students have “cognitive and emotional handicaps, most of them fueled by the confounding effects of domestic violence, drug abuse, neglect, poverty and other social ills that leave them unable to pay attention, stick with schoolwork or control violent urges.” Her point (as my story stated) was that 63 percent of these students have only “mild to moderate disabilities” and are not disruptive. The Tribune did not print a response to Green’s comments.

Jackson reported that 3,500 disabled pupils had been transferred to neighborhood schools in 1992, with another 1,500 to 2,000 more expected to be relocated this year. The ultimate goal, he noted, citing board officials, is to put “as many disabled pupils as possible in regular classrooms.” He added that special-education classes can cost more than twice as much as regular classes. It’s possible to consider this movement “dumping,” as Green called it, or not, as Jackson would prefer.

I was incorrect in stating that Jackson claimed some children are “deliberately” mislabeled; I read more into Jackson’s account of the school board’s altering certain records than Jackson intended.

Charlene Green did not claim that Jackson said all special-ed classes are to be closed. Her comment was based on her concern that the public might get that impression from the tenor of the Tribune series. I regret any misunderstanding resulting from the way I phrased the paragraph. I also regret characterizing Jackson’s six-part series as having only five parts.

In citing remarks from the series made by one principal and one teacher, I was most assuredly not suggesting that Jackson had talked to only these two. They were mentioned as examples of dissatisfaction with integration efforts and as supporting the judgment of another critic whom I quoted at some length.

I have high regard for David Jackson’s reporting and apologize for any misinterpretation of his message.