Posts Tagged ‘special ed’

Red Clay’s inclusion vote triggers some memories

March 20, 2014 3 comments

As you probably know by now, Red Clay’s inclusion plan failed at the board meeting last night in spectacular manner, with some provisions even failing to be seconded. The Inclusion Plan is Red Clay’s plan to move all special needs students along with their resources from their current special ed schools into the regular district schools.

My younger brother was born with Down’s Syndrome and is a Meadowood graduate. Professionals of the day classified him as “severely retarded.” The R-word sounds harsh today, but that was the correct medical and political term at the time, and was a helluva lot better that the term used before that.

He could not speak, not in a way that could be understood outside the family. Nor could he read, although he did learn to pick out some words in children’s board books. Arithmetic was out of the question. So was a career, or independent living. Of course my sainted mother read to him at home, but I credit the skills he learned to the intensive special education and speech therapy he received at Meadowood. He feceived the designation “trainable,” which was one step below “educable,” and which the euphemism treadmill later morphed into “severely mentally retarded” to “severely mentally nandicapped” and then “severely intellectually disabled.” This basically means he has an I.Q. of less than 50.

But he got on the Meadowood bus every day, which was undeniably shorter than the other buses, and which stopped at each rider’s house, and attended school like everyone else. I hope he wasn’t bullied – if he was, he wasn’t able to tell anyone. I know in the 1970s the kids in my schools weren’t ready for him.

Back then, inclusion meant having a school designed for special children, so they could attend school like their brothers and sisters. That was a step forward. Before that they were kept at home or as legend has it, in church basements. Only a generation earlier, if you had a disabled child you didn’t mention him or her publicly.

My father became an advocate and was an early president of what was then known as the Delaware Association for Retarded Children, now ARC I guess. This was in the wake of the reforms illuminated by a youthful Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 report on the scandalous conditions at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island. The term FAPE was codified into Federal law in 1973, and state and local advocates were busy rewriting state laws to conform. I wasn’t really aware of what was going on, but I knew my father spent a lot of late nights in Dover.

After Meadowood, my mother passed on and my brother continued to live at home into my father’s old age. As a child of the Great Depression my father insisted that his son should work, so his inherent stubbornness and force of personality badgered administrators into accepting my brother at a branch of Elwyn Industries which, although it was a sheltered workshop was entirely inappropriate for him.

My father’s once-useful stubbornness gradually transformed into clinical dementia, on its way to full-blown Alzheimers disease until he passed away in 2008. Today, my brother lives in a nice group home in Delaware, and my sister and I are co-guardians. He attends a much more appropriate day program sponsored by Easter Seals. He gets on the bus every day, which is still short and still stops at his door.

As I read the emotional quotes from parents who attended last nignt’s board meeting, I can’t help noticing that each parent saw the inclusion plan through the lens of their own child. Some thought it would be best for their child, while others thought the current special schools would be better for their child. And you know what? They are both right.

District proponents keep repeating the mantra “least restrictive environment” as if it alone had some moral force or shaming power to make their inclusion plan prevail. But who gets to decide which environment is least restrictive for any given child? Special needs children are all different, even more so than other children. Many special needs children would thrive under an inclusion plan, while others would wilt. Not every special ed child fits the inspiring made-for-TV model.

Currently special ed students are perfectly well allowed to attend regular schools, and many do. The placement decision is up to the student’s individual IEP team, which includes school professionals and the parents. The discussion often hinges on where special-needs resources are located.

At one of the public meetings this winter I asked: “What happens if a student’s IEP finds that the student would be best served in a segregated special ed environment?” The answer was that Red Clay has agreements with certain providers to provide those services. In other words, students who need a dedicated special ed environment would be outsourced.

But now, Red Clay has pitted one group of special ed parents against another, and is butting heads with those parents who don’t want their special schools taken away. This is unworthy and needless friction. Often when confronted with an ugly binary choice, the right answer is “Both.” In other words, inclusion should be opt-in, and not forced upon students or parents who don’t want it. True, there would be costs associated with adding special ed resources to regular schools while also keeping the special schools open. But let’s put a price tag on it and get the numbers out there and then decide, instead of butting heads.