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Archive for the ‘inclusion’ Category

Exclusion of student with DS from college class sparks concern

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Protest continues to mount over a decision by Southern Oregon University to exclude a non-credit student with Down syndrome from an introductory ceramics course. The decision comes almost 35 years after the enactment of federal legislation that opened public school doors to students with disabilities.

More than 700 people have signed an online petition urging the reinstatement of 20-year-old Eliza Schaaf. An online column by San Francisco school board member Rachel Norton on SFGate.com called the university’s decision “appalling.”

College officials abruptly withdrew Schaaf from the course last month, saying that she is not qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate. Alissa Arp, dean of SOU’s college of arts and sciences, wrote in a letter to Schaaf that her presence in the class had resulted in a “disruption of curriculum delivery and interfered with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students.” Schaaf had attended Ashland High School and had been fully included in her educational career up until that time.

SOU dean of students Laura O’Bryan upheld the decision this week in a letter that referred to Schaaf’s enrollment as a “novel situation.”

“The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU,” O’Bryan wrote.

Norton, a former member of the San Francisco Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, noted that Eliza’s family had apparently made a reasonable effort to prepare the university and assure that the young woman had an orderly transition to college life.

An excerpt from Norton’s column:

I hereby wish to invoke the power of the Internets to show Southern Oregon University how wrong-headed they are by failing to see the benefits (let alone the moral imperative) of including a person with a disability.

… 35 years after the signing of IDEA, students who have experienced inclusive environments throughout their K-12 educations are now knocking on the doors of colleges like yours. Eventually, they’re going to gain access. Wouldn’t it be better if you figured out a way to welcome them?

Related commentary:

An editorial from the [Medford, Oregon] Mail Tribune says Schaaf should be allowed to complete the course, but the editorial writers leave open the question of whether the university has an obligation to serve what they call an “unusual” student. An excerpt:

… While it is difficult from the outside to understand all the issues in this case – SOU isn’t talking about it – it’s clear that universities should be able to bar some students from some classes. Even students who graduate from high school have no intrinsic right to a college education: It’s for those who can meet the academic requirements of entry.
But the university does bear responsibility for making clear who can and can’t attend.

… [The family's] experience speaks not necessarily to whether Schaaf’s presence in the class was appropriate but to how well the university was, or wasn’t, able to handle an unusual student’s desire to enroll.

The university ought to let Schaaf finish out the term in ceramics – and then turn its attention to addressing that issue long-term.

Related coverage:

A website maintained by Eliza Schaaf’s family carries many messages of support.

Madison inclusion policy draws students with disabilities

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Families from all over the country are moving to Madison, Wisconsin, to get an inclusive education for their students with disabilities, Michael Winerip writes in the New York Times. An estimated 17.5 percent of students in Madison are classified as having disabilities, compared with about 12 percent nationwide.

The vast majority of  Madison’s students with disabilities are fully included in classes alongside their peers; fewer than five percent are educated separately, while the rest have a mix of general and special education classes.

“This is not a board that separates our children; it’s a board that believes every child should be educated,” said Marjorie Passman, a member of the school board.

Districts strain to serve students with multiple, severe disabilities

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

From the New York Times:

School districts across the country are struggling to meet the needs of students who were once predominately isolated in institutions. Among the hard questions districts face:

  • How can schools balance instruction in functional skills and academics for students with severe disabilities, even as they are providing custodial care?
  • Is inclusion really helping these students?
  • How can schools measure progress reliably for these students?

The Times highlights the story of Donovan Forde, 20, who has cognitive disabilities brought on by a traumatic brain injury that occurred when he was hit by a car as an infant. After 15 years in the New York City school system, his mother says, Forde is more social but has made almost no other progress. He is not able to walk, speak or feed himself, and has not achieved most of the goals set out in his education plan. When not in school, Forde lives in a nursing facility on Roosevelt Island and receives services that are paid by Medicaid.

An excerpt:

Because they need intensive interventions, students like Donovan do not fit neatly into the paradigm for special education that has prevailed in the United States for more than a decade: inclusion. Congress ranks each state for its success in moving special education children into general education classrooms, addressing a core concern in the field – that too many children are not getting access to the regular curriculum.

But whether Donovan is best served in an academic-focused classroom is an uncomfortable question for many educators, because few better options are available, and inclusion “indicates a level of hope for parents, and the absence of hope is deadly,” said David Rose, the founder of CAST, a national organization that works to expand learning opportunities for students with disabilities.

“It’s an awkward period,” Mr. Rose said, in talking about the education of children with the most severe cognitive disabilities. “Because we know what we are doing is not right, and we often don’t talk about things when we don’t know what we are doing about them yet.”

Virginia high school uses sports to foster inclusion

Friday, April 30th, 2010

From WUSA9-TV, Washington, DC:

At Pope Paul VI High School in Fairfax, VA, students with intellectual disabilities are included in activities throughout the school, participating on such athletic teams as wrestling and basketball.

It’s all part of the school’s Options program, which started a little over ten years ago. The program brings trained professionals and student volunteers together to work with the kids with disabilities.

“Everyone learns to be comfortable with and foster friendships with those with disabilities,” said Chris Desmarais, who oversees Options. One mother said about her son, “”He’s no different in anyone else’s eyes. He’s a part of this school.”

See the video here.

NYC plan: Shift kids with disabilities to mainstream schools

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

From the New York Times:

New York City’s Bloomberg administration has announced plans to overhaul the city’s special education system, seeking to include more students with disabilities in neighborhood schools. The city has traditionally concentrated students with disabilities in schools that have specific special education programs.

Starting this fall, more than 250 schools will be asked to accept more students with disabilities. It is anticipated that all of the system’s 1,500 schools will be expected to enroll all but the most severely disabled students by Sept. 2011.

Officials say the intent of the shift is to improve results for students with disabilities, as well as bringing the city into line with the national trend toward inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. But some disability advocates and educators worry that students will be harmed if changes are introduced too quickly, or without adequate preparation.

“This is fundamentally looking to change the way kids with special needs are treated in the city – they’re talking about changing the culture of all the schools in the city so that they can serve students that many of them were previously shipping out,” said Kim Sweet, the executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, which helps parents navigate the special education system. “This could easily fall flat if it’s not done right.

“If kids are stuck in schools that don’t have the capacity to serve them and are denied requests to move elsewhere, that would be falling worse than flat.”

Special education enrollment in New York amounts to 177,000 students, or 17 percent of the system’s total, up from about 13 percent seven years ago. The city’s annual pricetag for special education is about $4.8 billion annually, with $1.2 billion of that going to send students to private schools.

Quebec to re-examine school inclusion for kids with disabilities

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

From the Montreal Gazette and CBC News, with earlier story from the Montreal Gazette:

Responding to complaints by teachers that they were being overwhelmed, the Quebec government has agreed to rethink the way it integrates students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

Teachers’ unions negotiating for a new contract have been demanding a limit of 10 percent on the number of students with disabilities included in each general education classroom.

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne doesn’t want integration at any cost, said her spokesperson, Tamara Davis. “We’re going to re-examine our admissibility criteria in (regular) courses,” Davis said.

The government isn’t turning away from integration, she said. “We’re going to be modifying it.

“It is to help the teachers’ workloads and also all students in their learning,” Davis said.

“We’re not excluding everybody and we’re not including everybody,” said Davis, adding the details still have to be worked out.

Inclusive school schedule shuts girl out of Special Olympics

Monday, April 19th, 2010

From WSAV TV, Savannah:

A nine-year-old Georgia girl has been closed out of participating in her local Special Olympics because the scheduling of the events clashed with her school schedule. Reagan Argo-Wilbanks, who has Down syndrome, is included in general education classes in the Liberty County School System.

“Because she has classroom subjects with regular students, instead of in all special education, she would miss too much academic instruction to participate,” [the girl's mother] said school officials told her.

Reagan meets Georgia Special Olympics rules, but each county is allowed to run their own games.

“You can’t call it the Special Olympics if you’re adding extra rules to discriminate against kids that would be allowed to participate,” said her mother.

The school district declined to comment.

(Photo from WSAV-TV)

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