Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes

Robert Tomsho:

Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.
Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others — at one point giving a teacher a black eye.
“She did not learn anything that year,” Ms. Travis recalls. “She regressed.”
As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.
Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments — including separate schools.

More on from the Wall Street Journal on Mainstreaming.
Joanne has more.

2 thoughts on “Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes”

  1. The state of Florida already has “charter” schools specifically for autistic children. Every state should look at what they have done.

  2. In response to the article, Pamela Winton (senior scientist at FPG Child Development Institute) prepared the following letter to the editor. As of December 4th, The Journal has not printed any letters referencing the article.
    Robert Tomsho’s article, “Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes,” is the WSJ’s second recent front page story to attack the merits of inclusion. While these articles raise legitimate concerns, they distort the issue by focusing only on the symptoms (the conflict), rather than the actual problems that need to be addressed.
    Inclusion is like anything else. When done poorly, it doesn’t work. And simply calling something inclusion, does not make it so. In the most basic terms, inclusion flips the old special education model on its head. Instead of moving children to isolated classrooms to receive specialized services, inclusion requires that the services be brought to the child in the regular classroom—the same one that his or her typically developing peers attend. And far from the disastrous outcomes reported by the Wall Street Journal, when done correctly research shows that all children benefit—those with and without disabilities.
    For inclusion to be successful, specialists, teachers and families must actively collaborate to best meet the needs of children with disabilities. There must be active support for inclusion from the administration and ongoing professional development. In other words, the resources to support inclusion must be in place to allow all children to reap its benefits. This was clearly not the case in the situations the Journal described.
    In some early childhood education programs effective inclusion practices are becoming the norm. And when done well, it is producing significant results for children across a range of abilities. Research shows that children with disabilities make developmental gains in inclusive classroom. They engage in more positive behaviors. Parents report gains in social skills, acceptance by peers, and developmental gains.
    Typically developing children also benefit. In one study parents reported that their child was more accepting of human differences, more aware of other children’s needs, had less discomfort around people with disabilities, and had less prejudice about people who behaved differently.
    The articles do raise valid concerns for what happens when educators call something inclusion, but in reality practice “dumping”—simply placing children with disabilities in the same classroom as their typically developing peers. Inclusion is much more. Rather than using inclusion as a scapegoat for problems in schools, we should be providing the resources to support it and allowing all children to reap its benefits.

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