Special Education Students Workin' In The Lunchroom

  • Talkin’ 'bout—slave labor.
    ~I went to a typical midwestern US public high school that did this, and most others around did it too: there was a vocational program of some sort that allowed (-or made?) special education students do light duty jobs in the cafeteria. At the time it didn’t occur to me how strange this was. I don’t know anyone now with children that have been through the local special education programs, and it never occurred to me to ask them about it then, but I am wondering:
  1. How can the school have students working for them for free?
  2. -Unless they weren’t working for free. Did they get paid for it? How much did they get paid? Those bastards!
  3. When and where did this practice begin?
  4. I know I would have hated to get caught doing something wrong, and be sentenced to work in the cafeteria for a week. This would seem to be a much better form of punishment than detention study hall. How do they select which students do it? Is it a “reward” or a “punishment”? (there were much more special education students than lunchroom jobs for them)
  5. How come the lunchroom? There was a big campus with lots of other stuff that they could have done assuming they had supervision. Were the cafeteria workers just the only ones not unionized? - MC

I can’t speak for this school in particular, but as step-father to a child in special ed, and having had a job as a case manager for the mentally retarded for 6 years, I doubt if they are getting paid. In my experience, the school places these students in a “vocational training” class, and then gets them various jobs for which they get school credit but no pay.

I agree, a lot of it is voc training. It might seem menial, but for a lot of these kids it’s as good as it’s gonna get.

My wife is a high-school special-ed teacher, working with a TMR population (Trainably Mentally Retarded - How insulting is that?) Unfortunately, most of these kids also come from truly horrific home environments (poverty, abuse, etc) and as such usually aren’t well fed. Working in the caf also provides them with a chance for a decent lunch. Yes, there are free lunch programs in the school, but the family has to make an effort to get them and again, these families just don’t care.

It also provides a social outlet for the kids. Despite how some of the mainstream kids might view it, my wife’s kids love being able to mix with the “cool” kids.

As someone who spent 2 years as the live-in help in an adult foster care home, I can tell you that something like this is considered a reward, not a punishment, by mentally “challenged” people. They treasure any opportunity to get out in the world, to be treated like actual human beings, even if it’s only bussing tables in the cafeteria.

Lunchroom work is just about perfect because it doesn’t require reading or writing, or even many verbal skills (some of them don’t talk so good…), they don’t have to handle money, and they don’t even have to have much by way of interpersonal skills (dealing with the public). All they have to do is clean off tables, and they CAN do that.

I doubt whether your high school kids get paid for it–it’s probably considered Voc Ed. When it’s grownups doing the work out in the real world, AFAIK they’re supposed to get minimum wage, same as everybody else.