Team members at IEP Meetings that make decisions about where students with disabilities need to receive their services are in many cases ill prepared and ill informed to do so. District trainings should include exposing IEP team members to actual research, including that released by the Department of Education, that looks at the life outcomes for students with disabilities that were educated in self contained versus inclusive settings (I will provide links below to a few articles, research). Trainings should also be provided to educate teachers, administrators and support staff about the best practices of inclusive education, what has been proven to work and what doesn’t.
We don’t have to guess, in the educational world FAPE, inclusive education and universal design are highly researched and studied areas. We ask teachers and administrators to use research based reading programs but we don’t expect them to approach life defining decisions for students with disabilities with a review of research. Without a thorough study of the topic, recommendations are at best subjective. I believe that we need to rely on research, combined with individual students needs and of course unusual circumstances when making educational setting and placement decisions. I am very concerned when I attend meetings where teachers are convinced that a student requires specialized instruction in a separate classroom or separate day school, but they cannot give any reason why their recommendation is based on anything other than the perceived limitations of the student and/or the idea that the disabled student will prevent other students in the general education setting from learning.
I have come to believe that educators largely consider resource room or a separate day school when they personally don’t feel confident in meeting the needs of the child in question. AS a result, decisions are being made based on lack of training, comfortability, experience of educators and school teams biases concerning where students with certain behaviors or learning deficits should be educated. This is not a way that we should be making setting and placement decisions.
All parents at one point or another have experienced a level of worry or concern when they know that their child is being left out, excluded, etc. Even something as simple as a few clicky girls not wanting to play with my daughter on the playground makes me feel uneasy. Imagine how a parent of a child with a disability feels when year after year they are told, “it isn’t time yet for your child to be included” OR that their child simply isn’t ready to be in a regular classroom yet. Instead of other children leaving children out, now the adults are the ones facilitating the exclusion…Not with bad intentions, of course. BUT really because the professionals don’t know how to successfully include children with levels of academic, behavioral, communicative or physical needs that are outside of what they have been trained to support or the experiences they have had thus far. When a teacher or other support personnel knows how to and is confident they will be successful with a student, I believe that they will promote the inclusion of students with disabilities to the maximum extent possible, as the law requires (IDEA 2004) . I don’t think teachers wake up in the morning with a vendetta against students on the basis of their disability. When a team member believes that they aren’t able to reach and teach a child under the current circumstances, the solution seems to be to move them with the notion that once they are moved they will get what they need. I am urging teams to take proactive steps and seek consult before deciding that’s what needs to be done. In the majority of the cases I review where behavior is an issue, for example, the student either doesn’t have a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan), the BIP is outdated or the BIP isn’t scientific in nature. The BIP, in the case of students with behavioral challenges, is one example of something that should be implemented with fidelity checks far prior to a more restrictive environment being considered.
I am here to help parents and schools determine if moving a child to another setting is necessary for them to access a meaningful education or if there are supports and aides that we should exhaust in the regular classroom before having that conversation. In 9 out of 10 instances we can make inclusion work successfully with effective team collaboration and exercising best practices. Please reach out to me should you need any help and if you are interested in learning more about Inclusion in Florida and beyond, please search Florida Alliance for Inclusive Education on facebook and request to join the page. Thank you!
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Krista Barth, Special Needs Advocate
Research(on(Inclusive(EducationApril 10,(2009)- type into google and download the pdf