Friday, January 8, 2016

Former Public School 24: Part II

Written by Mathew Shoen, Associate Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios

[ Part 1]

Sorry for the long delay but work got in the way of concluding this blog on Public School 24. I left off with P.S. 24’s work with the blind, highlighting the school’s role in educating the blind, and children with sight impairments. The school maintained citywide importance throughout the 30s and 40s  with children oftentimes being bussed to School 24 to take part in sight-saving classes. However, as I alluded to in my earlier post the school took steps beyond educating the physically handicapped. P.S. 24 was one of the first schools in Buffalo to take on the education of mentally handicapped children and adults.

In the 1940s New York State began addressing the issue of educating children with cognitive disabilities. A 1957 law encouraged the inclusion of children with cognitive disabilities in the school setting while another law four years later in 1961 required school districts to provide classes for special needs children. Normally when laws are implemented by the state or federal government local bodies have to adapt themselves to the new regulations, however Buffalo didn’t face this problem because in 1960 a program to educate the cognitively disabled was instituted, thus beating out New York State by a year.

At this time Buffalo had nearly 1,400 students with cognitive disabilities. The city formalized a plan to mix all students up to the third grade after which those with special needs would be separated to complete their coursework.[1] This program was intended for children who possessed an IQ between fifty and seventy, a range which in 1960s designated them as “educable.” Students below this IQ range were generally speaking not required to be educated as many assumed they would be in the lifelong custody of their family members. It was with these students, whose disabilities were considered too severe to educate, that P.S. 24 began an experimental program in 1960.

The program sought to educate children ranging from ages seven to twenty whose IQ’s rested between thirty and fifty. These students and young adults were classified as trainables, and often had never experienced education. The classes were put together to provide basic household skills and socialization opportunities for the students who, due to New York State’s mandate that a school did not have to accept students it deemed uneducable, had often times experienced very limited interaction with the wider world beyond their family home.

Educators at School 24 were proud of the strides their pupils had made given the restraints which had been placed upon them from birth. Though the children were too disabled to work in anything besides a sheltered workshop, the effort to educate them showed Buffalo was ahead of the times in assuming that children with profound mental disabilities could be taught. Though the programs did not extend much beyond the most basic skills of arithmetic and writing, it is doubtless that the students who passed through P.S. 24’s doors were bettered by their education and the care they received inside the school.

Today P.S. 24 is empty, a casualty of the school closings and consolidations which occurred during the desegregation era. Currently the school is in the process of being redeveloped into an apartment complex. Once completed the former school building will serve the community and continue to stand as a landmark to Buffalo’s myriad of successful special needs programs.

[1] Special needs students were still integrated for gym and lunch to help socialize them.

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