PALO, Leyte,  (PNA) – About 300 special education (SPED) teachers from the Department of Education (DepEd) Leyte Division gathered here Wednesday for this year’s SPED Congress to discuss issues and concerns about the program.

Ronelo Al K. Firmo, division superintendent, said the expansion of SPED program for the entire province hadbeen met with both challenges and growth.

“Based on various surveys some parents of children with special needs are hesitant and are not supportive, while others are embarrassed. There is also a question on transportation and on who will take care of their children when they are at school,” he said, adding that “there has to be a change in our culture in terms of how we look at these children.”

He explained that expanding the SPED program entails additional budget for teachers and facilities so they only open three to five SPED schools annually to fit it with their annual implementation plan and budget.

Thus, he called on local governments for support.

“As much as possible every LGU (local government unit) should have its SPED program so they don’t have to bring their students to other towns. This is also aimed to speed up the transition of the students,” Firmo said.

Meanwhile, former DepEd Undersecretary Yolanda S. Quijano, in her keynote address during the SPED Congress, talked about management of the schools for inclusive education, while DepEd central office senior education program specialist and SPED division OIC Nancy Pascual discussing about updates on special education program implementation under the K to 12 program.

According to Quijano, more opportunities have to be given to children with special needs.

“All school-aged children should be accepted in school,” she said, while saying that inclusive education means “accepting all children to school and assessing those who have special needs.”

Susan B. De Veyra, SPED education program specialist in Leyte Division, also inspired SPED teachers to sustain their efforts for students with special needs.

Meanwhile, seven outstanding SPED teachers, representing the seven areas in Leyte Division, were given recognition during the event.

They are Gemmarie L. Gonzaga of Palo I Central School (Area I), Liza Espina of Cassidy Elementary School (Area II-A), Nieriza M. Tan of Burauen South (Area II-B), Anna Marie Llano of San Isidro Central School (Area III), Gregine S. Laurente of Kananga I Central School (Area IV), Janice Lecares of Balocawehay Elementary School (Area V-A), and Celesto C. Casinillo of Hilongos South Central School (Area V-B).

“Let us continue in taking care of these children with special needs so that they become independent learners. This is because their parents will not be there for them throughout their lifetime,” said Espina, the 36-year old outstanding SPED teacher from Carigara, Leyte.

Espina also thanked their local government units and other stakeholders for the support.

“I am deeply humbled,” added Gonzaga of Palo I Central School, who narrated how her colleagues and students inspire her to work hard.

“Our school has 46 children with special needs, and I am handling 13 of them in my class. Teaching them is difficult but it brings me joy,” added Espina who has been a SPED teacher for the past five years.

Sarah Cabaluna, of the regional office Curriculum and Learning Management Division and who represented DepEd regional director Luisa Bautista-Yu also shared her own experience on how grateful her family is for the DepEd SPED program.

“As SPED teachers, you are the only one who can understand these children with special needs. Continue to motivate and nurture them,” Cabaluna said.

Palo, Leyte Mayor Remedios Petilla also expressed her admiration to the teachers who attended the event.

She admitted that promotion of SPED program is not only the job of DepEd but also of LGUs, thus, she expressed commitment to discuss more about the SPED program in the school board agenda of her town.

As of the current school year, Leyte, with its 40 LGUs, has 19 towns with elementary SPED classes and three towns opening high school SPED program.

There are 605 SPED students in elementary being catered by 59 teachers while enrollment in the secondary level is about 66, with eight teachers.

Students who can be enrolled in the SPED program include those who are handicapped and those with down syndrome and cerebral palsy, and those who are hearing and visually impaired. (PNA)