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Parents Down on Mainstreaming, Too

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At least, sometimes they are: in my last blog entry, I wrote about a poll that suggested only about a quarter of the public, including public school teachers, supported having children with emotional and behavioral disorders educated in the regular classroom.

But parents of children with disabilities in the 10,400-student Tuscaloosa, Ala., district fought a plan to close a school that educated only students with disabilities.

The Department of Education's office of civil rights got involved in the Tuscaloosa situation, because parents complained that by taking the children out of Oak Hill School and returning them to their neighborhood schools, the district was denying the children access to the specialized services they needed.

The civil rights office recently concluded that there was no evidence that students in neighborhood schools were failing to get appropriate services. But it sounds like parents ultimately got what they wanted, which was to have the special education school remain open.

In a news release issued on Nov. 7, 2007, the school system announced that Oak Hill would close and that at least 88 special-needs students would be transferred to their neighborhood schools because of federal guidelines. Superintendent of Education Joyce Levey said the school’s closing would put the city school system in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which states that special education students should receive educational services with their non-disabled peers 80 percent of the time.

After an outcry from parents that culminated in an emotional public meeting on Nov. 13, the school system reversed course and kept the school open. Parents and teachers argued that Oak Hill provided an environment for special-needs students that could not be duplicated elsewhere.

I'm not sure, but the 80 percent recommendation Levey refers to appears to come from the relatively new annual performance reports that states must file with the Department of Education. The department monitors and grades states on 34 special education "indicators," one of which is how many students are removed from regular class less than 21 percent of the day and how many students are removed from regular class more than 60 percent of the day. The goal is to have students placed in the "least restrictive environment" that meets their educational needs.

A list of the IDEA part B (school-aged kids) indicators is here (pdf); the Part C (infants and toddlers) indicators are here, also in pdf form.

3 Comments

Thanks for sharing this. I think many times the public is too busy jumping on the bandwagon of wanting to be "politically correct" or not wanting to offend people that we fail to look at the needs of our students. For these children, this setting was the most appropriate. But just because it was appropriate for these students, it might not be for others. We need to stop generalizing and trying to fit all special ed students into one mold and look at meeting their individual needs. I think that is what IDEA is all about. Great post!

Christine:

There are many troubling things about this. One is the superintendent's blatant misstatement that NCLB requires that students with disabilities be educated with their non-disabled peers 80% of the time. I am not sure what motivated the school district, but it takes a real stretch to come up with this "requirement." Second, if we are talking about 88 kids in a district of 10,400, even the 80% "rule" would not appear to apply.

I am guessing--from the parent's reaction--that the 88 kids were in fact receiving needed services in that building (just a guess, mind you, it's not always the case). I know that some kids with extreme autism respond to an intensity of services most effectively delivered in a specialized location. But this does not generalize well into an argument for or against inclusion or mainstreaming.

IDEA speaks of a continuum of services and placements. Despite all the rhetoric from teachers about "one size doesn't fit all," it would seem that we have far greater difficulty acting on policies that differentiate than ones that do not.

But even greater than that--where is the long term planning for students with and without disabilities and how do we include the knowledge of parents? How do we arrive at such sudden announcements without the shared buy-in of parents? Why aren't we including in district building plans an intention to move the location of highly speialized services within or closer to the non-disabled students in order to facilitate transitions and the involvement as possible of students whose disabilities are in fact better served outside of the regular education classroom?

It really isn't an either/or situation. Frequently it is both/and.

Hi Patricia! (waves)

Margo/Mom, I was scratching my head over that 80 percent recommendation. I'm just not sure where that is coming from. But in fairness to the superintendent, I don't know if that was a misstatement on her part, or perhaps a misinterpretation on the part of the reporter. I find that reporters who don't often cover the nitty-gritty of education issues can get things a little mixed up because it's hard! I know that it was hard for me when I first started covering spec ed...and it's still not what I would call easy.

I don't see the connection between placement and NCLB, though.

Anyway, all the stories that I read about inclusion/mainstreaming make me think that both/and is a better way to go as well.

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