I've been hiding my head in the sand at the fact that Kayla will be going to middle school next year.
We went to the "Rising 6th Graders" open house night to get a tour of the school so there is no more denying that she is, indeed, a "rising 6th grader".
Then we had a personalized tour set up for us as parents of a child receiving special education services. We met with the school psychologist who brought us to observe a classroom: The "ID-Mild (Intellectual Disability)" classroom.
That's all we observed. We weren't taken to observe any of the other 6th grade classrooms; not the general ed classrooms, resource room, cross-cateogry (cross-cat) resource room, or the Read 180 and Math 180 rooms.
Could we have asked to observe other classrooms? I'm sure we could have, but it was obvious that by only bringing us to observe that particular classroom where they expected Kayla's placement to be.
It seems to be a 'standard operating procedure' that students with intellectual disabilities are educated in self-contained special-education classrooms. Never mind that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act states that a general education classroom in the neighborhood school should be the first placement considered; it has never seemed to be a consideration discussed in Kayla's IEP meeting. In our experience it seems the standard is to start with the self-contained classroom and work backward letting her have some inclusion time.
The students in this classroom receive all of their academic instruction in the 5 core classes (Reading, Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science) in this classroom. Unless a student shows more mastery, or a stronger skill in one of those areas ... then they may get to go to another classroom. In other words they can earn their way out of the classroom by their academic performance. The time of day we were observing the classroom they were working on reading. We were told that there was another student out of the classroom at that time because that person is doing so much better in reading, it is their strong subject. I don't remember if this student went to the cross-cat room, a resource room, or the general education room for their reading instruction time, but I think it was cross-cat. Regardless ... can you imagine if all typical students were placed this way? If they had to earn their way in to the classroom by showing proficiency or did well in one subject over the other?
We were told they get plenty of opportunity for inclusion and to be amongst their typically-developing peers. Yet their inclusion time is during two related arts classes, lunch (which we later found out that classrooms really all sit together as a classroom so they would still be with their self-contained class) and courtyard time (20 minutes).
One of the justifications for having these students spend the majority of their day in this one classroom is because their goal is to teach them independence, how to work independently and develop those skills so they can be prepared to transition to high school. Prepare them to be independent in a self-contained classroom so they can be prepared for what exactly in high school? The same type of placement?
The students in this classroom don't even get lockers assigned to them like the rest of the general education students. Why? Well for one because they stay in that classroom, so why bother having a locker to go to when you need to switch out your books for the next class? All their books and folders and backpacks just stay in the classroom.
Also because organizational skills like going to your locker and putting away one book and folder for one class and making sure you have the right book, folder, notebook, papers etc for the next subject is too much for these students. It's too hard and confusing. That's what was explained to us on why they don't have lockers.
Oh! But they DO go out to the hall and mingle and hang around during class changes like everyone else! They just don't go to a locker and they go right back to the same classroom. But consolation prize for having inclusion time in the hallway during classroom changes?
How about teaching them those organizational skills? How about assigning them the lockers that are right outside their classroom door? How about the teacher reminding them to take their English books/folders to their lockers to be put away and take out their Science books? How about color coding their textbook covers to match with a color-coded schedule so they can see that Science is next and highlighted green, so that means take the green-colored textbook out of the locker?
My guess as to what the school team was going to recommend for placement was confirmed when I realized there would not be a general education teacher from the middle school attending the IEP meeting. Why should they bother having a ged ed teacher there when they weren't planning on recommending any time in the general education classroom? The two middle school teachers in attendance were the special education teacher of the classroom we observed and the special education teacher of the cross-cat classroom.
Their recommendation was exactly what we observed: for Kayla to be in the self-contained classroom for all 5 of the core academic classes and the standard inclusion time of related arts, lunch, courtyard.
IDEA also states that students with disabilities should be educated in the general education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate. Of course saying 'maximum extent' leaves what that means up to wide interpretation. There is no clear definition of what maximum time means, because it is an Individualized Education Program and the maximum time is defined at each IEP meeting.
But how is receiving all academic instruction (I am not counting the related arts time, I'm talking specifically about core academic classes) the maximum extent appropriate? It's NO time at all.
Kayla's current placement this year is receiving all of her ELA (English Language Arts) time in the cross-cat resource room. To me that isn't ideal, but she is using the System 44 reading program and for students on an IEP that's where they receive all their ELA instruction. The difference with the cross-cat room is it isn't typically where students with intellectual disabilities receive instruction. It is for students from the gen ed classrooms who have learning/emotional/behavior/educational disabilities to receive direct instruction or extra help. Kayla also goes there for 40 min of math. She is with the gen ed room for the rest of her time with modifications made to the science/social studies curriculum. She is with her ged ed class for 45 min of math but that is another topic.
Kayla met all but one of her IEP goals this year. She is not failing social studies or science (again, disclaimer that she does receive a modified curriculum in those areas). She is making progress. Yet they recommend a more restrictive placement for middle school. They don't even think it's appropriate for her to go to ged ed for social studies/science.
I'm reaching the point where I don't even want to fight anymore. Despite the fact that research has shown, over and over again, that students with disabilities perform better and make better academic gains in math and reading when included in general education classrooms. In Inclusion or Segregation for Children with an Intellectual Impairment: What Does The Research Say? Dr Robert Jackson said "...no review could be found comparing segregation and inclusion that came out in favor of segregation in over forty years of reserach." (The link above is for a pretty lengthly pdf document, but so worth the read for the knowledge and information on all the research that has been done over the years. It is very eye-opening. How could I not want an inclusive educational experience for Kayla?
We could fight that they are proposing a more restrictive placement even though she has made progress and met goals in her current placement. We might even win that battle and maintain the placement she has now.
But what is the point if the attitude isn't there? What is the point if the belief in an inclusive education isn't there? How is it beneficial if not one person truly believes in an inclusive academic setting with appropriate supports and modifications? How can it be successful if no one wants her in a ged ed classroom?