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An Example of Inclusion?

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A few days ago, the Kansas City Star published this article about a Wichita district school for students with emotional and mental disabilities enrolling a new category of students—those who face suspension or expulsion but will be given a second choice at graduating.

Instead of its own school mascot, the gym wall at Sowers Alternative High School has the mascots from all seven of the Wichita district's comprehensive high schools painted on it.

Sowers students, most of whom are diagnosed with emotional and mental disabilities, ideally will make the transition into one of those high schools.

But in reality, principal Jackie Hultman said, only about 10 percent of its students ever transfer out of the school's concentrated special-education environment.

"It's better if we maintain it for kids who need it," said Neil Guthrie, director of special education for the school district.

But to keep up with federal guidelines, the Wichita district will have to move more special-education students out of Sowers and bring regular-education students into the special school.

The school board has already taken the first step by voting to change the way it categorizes Sowers High School, along with Wells Middle School and Griffenstein Elementary School. Formerly called "special education centers," they will now be known as "alternative schools."

The first change at Sowers will be this school year, when the school accepts students who have faced suspension or expulsion for unintentional battery of school employees but have a second chance at graduating.

I recommend reading the entire story, if for no other reason than it includes a brief comment from Alexa Posny, the nominee for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, who has been the subject of a lot of chatter in my blog post here.

I understand what's going on here; the district is under some pressure to provide students with disabilities education in a more inclusive environment. But the early implementation of this program suggests that there won't be that much inclusiveness to start with. The new students, who are facing expulsion, will be using their own bathrooms and entrances.

The administrators say they envision more interaction, but the story goes on to say that hasn't really been the case in the Olathe district. However, the combined program has led to money saved through staffing efficiencies, which I would imagine might be more important to some school officials during these money-strapped times.

I'm curious to know if there are many other combined programs like this, and if others have seen them serve the stated purpose of providing more inclusion opportunities for students with disabilities. It seems to me like it will take some real imagination and effort on the part of all the educators involved to make sure that these students are really learning with each other, and not just near each other.

10 Comments

"the combined program has led to money saved through staffing efficiencies"

Yippee. The bloody bottom line is what's important. Never the kids.

Christina, you say that, in actuality there won't be much inclusion when this program starts, but what about the school bus ride? The cost of transporting disabled students to school can cost a district many times more than that of a regular education student. But you can't eliminate special ed routes. So many schools have already been "mainstreaming" special ed students that have less severe needs into bus rides that have traditionally served the general student population, all in a hope of driving down costs. A bit of a different slant, but I think you can see it's most definitely related.

Ryan, that's an interesting point. Do you have experience with that type of "mainstreaming?" I'd like to hear more about this.

Because I'm not in Wichita and haven't been a party to these meetings, I can't say for sure what's going on, only what the news article says. I just wonder what kind of framework that has been created that will ensure that this is inclusion "in fact," not just the appearance of inclusion for the sake of funding or federal requirements or what have you.

There may be a very extensive plan out there, and I'd love to see how it'll work.

I almost see a distinction without a difference here. There has always been a wide overlap between kids who are identified as having learning or emotional difficulties and those who face suspension or expulsion. I remember when my district tried to convince me that they were building "inclusion" by putting the developmentally disabled kids in the same classroom with the kids who were merely learning disabled (the principal stated it more clearly: "I had to dump a unit and my bargaining chip with downtown was that I would let them make the remaining units cross-categorical.")

It's always amazing to me how easily the left-over and left-out kids are thrown together (in my state, there was recently a battle over combining the school for the blind with the school for the deaf) when the differences between the groups may be greater than the difference between any individual group and the "regular" population. To think that this produces "inclusion" is just silly, if not profoundly dishonest.

It would be interesting to know exactly what "services" are being provided at this location and why this location is the best place for students with disabilities to receive them.

Ah yes, Inclusion...or LRE? Me thinks that bringing true behavior problems into a school supposedly specialized for those children that have issues learning for whatever reason is a nightmare for the children...because no doubt, the children being brought in and included are the very same that bullied and tormented the others in the "regular" school. If they will attack teachers what stops them from attacking other students?

Frankly, I find this both offensive and contrary to the spirit of inclusive practices for students with disabilities. To suggest that bringing peers who have had behavioral/emotional difficulty in their former schools to be the typical peers for these disabled students is creating an inclusive environment is ridiculous. While I accept that many methods and practices that special educators use to intervene for students identified as disabled can effectively be used with students exhibiting similar academic, emotional, or behavioral traits, this does not equate to inclusion. One of the most significant needs for inclusive practices is not only to allow special education students to access the general education curriculum and environment, but also because positive peer modeling is very effective when combined with appropriate interventions. Sure, we should be meeting the needs of all students, even those who need an alternate placement but are not in special education. Let's just call it what it is, though, not try to cover it with terms that make it seem as if we are complying with the law and the spirit of the law.

What kind of inclusion is this? Why are these studnets not educated in the general population schools? With the way special education is moving to "inclusion," the special education studnets in these schools should be educated in the general population schools. Those that have been suspended and are in need of an alternative program should be sent to an alternative school, and not to a school that houses special education studnets. I do not see how sending suspended studnets to a special education school could possibly be viewed as inclusion. I see a lawsuite in the future if this district does not make appropriate changes in their system.

I completely agree. It is not inclusion as far as special education law is concerned. My concern is for this entire school. It seems that they are somewhat deeming it "the land of misfit" students instead of creating a climate in all the schools of differentiated instruction with modifications, accommodations, and appropriate supports. I'd be interested in knowing how the schools runs and what makes it different from other schools in the district, besides the population of students.

The way the school district I teach at is set up, students are integrated into the regular education setting as much as possible and appropriate. There are a very few students in the district whose needs are not able to be addressed within the regular school setting and attend an alternative program for usually a year or two. The students entering this program usually, but not always, have Emotional/Behavioral Disorders. I have had little experience with this program, but what I have seen and heard, it has been highly beneficial to the participants. The school I teach at used to have a special behavior program, but it was eliminated due to financial cutbacks two years ago. Due to this cutback, one of my students attended the alternative program for a year. He came back and entered my classroom this past year and had improved his behavior tremendously during his time in the alternative program. I do believe that inclusion should definitely be the focus, but for those who would be most successful in an alternative program, I believe that should also be available.

In regards to the article, I can understand their desire to create a program that likely provides an increased level of behavior support. On the other hand, it seems that the arrangement of this program may be beneficial for some of the students attending, but may have a negative impact on other students. I would need to know more about how this program works, however.

I believe that inclusion within the classroom is extremely important. Children with disabilites need to be pushed to their full potential and inclusion within the classroom helps them extremely well, studied research shows so. Also, inclusion is very important for the main stream students as well as allowing them to cope and accept students with disabilites and work together. Everyone can learn from someone else. And in response to your comment, many early ed. classrooms have more than one teacher, the teachers getting along should have nothing to do with anything. The children's education is the main focus and everyone will have to work together.

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