Opinion: Parent questions safety precautions for developmentally disabled children at BOCES
Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - 9:49 am

To the Editor:

I need to say something important as the parent of a developmentally disabled child as well as a St. Lawrence County legislator.

Students with severe cognitive impairments attend school every day in our county. And every day, here in St. Lawrence County, high school students with severe cognitive impairments attend a school environment where the teacher warns that the power saws can cut off their hands.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the career training programs at schools like Seaway Tech, where instruction in the use of power tools appropriately takes place. I’m talking about the BOCES life skills program for kids with severe cognitive impairments, plus significant deficits in communication/language and adaptive behavior.

It is incomprehensible to me, to my wife, and to everyone else I have told, that power saws that can cut off a hand would be placed in the school environment of kids with severe cognitive impairments. Our 16-year-old autistic son is sweet and creative and generally awesome, but he functions on about the level of a kindergartener. No school puts power saws in kindergartens.

BOCES teachers and administrators tell us, “It’s okay, because we’re watching them.” And, “It’s okay, because students don’t actually operate them.” And, “It’s okay, because we tell them not to go into the danger zone.” The “danger zone” just across from the little craft area where the students sit together to sand and paint and assemble wooden projects.

No, it is not okay. No, there should be nothing at school that can cut off the hands of developmentally disabled kids. This will never be okay, no matter how many times and no matter how condescendingly and self-righteously this claim is repeated by BOCES teachers and administrators.

To the St. Lawrence County community: Please keep this in mind the next time you consider purchasing a wooden item produced in a BOCES life skills class. We know you mean well and that you want to support these amazing young people, and we appreciate that. We really do. But no Adirondack chair or wooden craft is worth risking our developmentally disabled children losing a finger or a hand at school.

Joe Timmerman

St. Lawrence County Legislator, District 10