Blogging A-Z: I is for inclusion. In the world of special education, inclusion is measured by how much time identified students (those with an IEP) spend with peers in a regular classroom. Inclusion, while not specifically mentioned by the most current revision of IDEA (2004), is related to the concept of “least restrictive environment” (LRE). (I could easily write a post on acronyms used in special ed and cover most of the alphabet.) The law promotes inclusion of identified (EC) students in a regular classroom with “supplementary aids and services.” If an IEP team is considering a more restrictive setting, it must consider a continuum of alternative placements, such as being pulled out for services or placed in a self-contained classroom.
Inclusion in the regular classroom came after years of isolating students in special classes, with a huge over-representation of black males in those programs. There was a shame associated with disabilities when I was growing up and those identified often had minimal contact with typically developing peers. Research has indicated that most students are better served in some form of inclusion with a regular classroom. Schools may not exclude disabled students on the basis of category or severity of disability, configuration of a delivery system, availability of educational services and/or space, and administrative convenience. See more on this at Wrightslaw.
It is in such an environment that the parents of Dynamic Community Charter School (DCCS) felt the need to improve services for their children by establishing a special education school. I believe they make a compelling argument that not all kids fare well in an inclusive setting. Certainly, their children didn’t; at DCCS, they are now thriving. That doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps along the way, but this is a group of kids for whom the regular classroom was a nightmare.
For the majority of kids, inclusion is the best way to go (albeit rough going for some)- and there’s a free app for that! iAdvocate was developed in conjunction with Syracuse University School of Education and Parent Advocacy Center with three primary features to support inclusion: Statements, Strategies, and Resources. The Statements section has a list of possible statements that a school might make to a parent, such as, “Don’t worry about all these acronyms. That’s just SOP.” Then a helpful parent response is provided, something like this: “While I understand that it is easy to get lost in translation, I have the right for all of your jargon to be explained to me. And it’s your responsibility to do it.” Under Strategies, iAdvocate covers a wide range of issues for parents to keep in mind, including the development of the IEP. The Resources include 10 publications (including journal articles), such as “‘Our School Doesn’t Offer Inclusion‘ and Other Legal Blunders.”
As you can see, inclusion is more complicated than the word would suggest!
I was so thrilled to read Friday’s News and Observer, which headlined the incredible families fighting to preserve Dynamic Community Charter School. Top and center of the newspaper! The fight is not won, but some state legislators are working to improve the funding situation. The amazing supporters of that school have already raised more than $200,000. Thanks to any readers who pitched in. It’s not too late to help out!
But why is Dynamic getting such grief from the state? They are the only special education charter school in North Carolina and the state is concerned that these 70 kids are not getting a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) because they are not included with “typical” peers. Passed as the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, federal guidelines for an appropriate education are listed below. The crucial issue is in the second bullet (in bold):
- education services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students are met;
- the education of each student with a disability with nondisabled students, to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with a disability;
- evaluation and placement procedures established to guard against misclassification or inappropriate placement of students, and a periodic reevaluation of students who have been provided special education or related services; and
- establishment of due process procedures that enable parents and guardians to:
- receive required notices;
- review their child’s records; and
- challenge identification, evaluation and placement decisions.
Dynamic’s parents and kids love their school. They wanted to get away from the mainstreaming which did not benefit their particular children. And there’s already a waiting list for next year. One reason I have so strongly supported this school is because I’ve worked with kids who have similar issues; many of them “made” it in an inclusive setting but some never could. One size does not fit all in ANY educational setting. Why can’t these kids continue to thrive at their school? Reread the first bullet above. Why can’t the Dynamic Dragons have a school designed to meet THEIR needs as adequately as the needs of nondisabled kids?
A student from Dynamic Community Charter School (DCCS) wrote an opinion column in today’s News and Observer. Entitled “A life-changing school where everyone fits in,” Bailey describes his long, miserable years of educational and social struggles. Diagnosed at age 3 with Asperger’s, he found himself without friends, considered “a freak of nature.” Fast forward to this year, where he is now a member of Dynamic Community Charter School, where all students are identified as having special needs. Bailey describes his initial skepticism and then joy in discovering an environment where he is no longer an isolate and no longer bullied. He “can’t survive” in a regular public school and will drop out if Dynamic is closed.
DCCS is facing an uphill battle against the State Board of Education, which seems determined to put an end to this special school. The board cites three reasons, according to DCCS’ website: funding, teacher licensure, and IEP compliance. I’ll briefly describe the issues but encourage you to visit their website and read for yourself. The funding issue resulted from their previously home-schooled kids not receiving state funding for much of the year. (One-third of this school’s students had been home-schooled as an alternative to public schools which failed to met their child’s needs.) The school is now solvent due to incredible and varied fundraising events by families who love DCCS. Most of their teachers are EC certified but they have lost a few staff members due to ongoing uncertainty about the school’s future. Four teachers are working on their certification, which would make all teachers certified. No one at DCCS seems concerned about IEP compliance. They report that was an issue BEFORE they got to Dynamic. The school was audited two months after opening but not given a chance to respond to timelines and recommendations. In January, the state board said the school would not be closed, then at a February meeting of which they had no notice, full closure of the school was recommended by the state.
I am utterly dismayed by the state’s recommendation. Does it have some ax to grind against Dynamic Community Charter School? Must all special needs kids be mainstreamed? If parents, staff, administrators, and students are overwhelmingly positive about this fledgling school, why should the state be pushing for closure? Does the state simply close its eyes to the fact that kids with IEPs are not always served by certified teachers? I now teach one special needs student who had a retired regular education teacher as a year-long substitute for EC services. I also know of other situations where students did not receive the support to which they were entitled through their IEP. Dynamics’s parents are desperate but savvy. If their children’s IEPs were not being met, do you seriously think they would be fighting for this school’s survival?
How you can help: Please sign DCCS’ online petition (through Change.org)! I am usually reluctant to sign something online but I strongly believe that these folks should have a chance to continue their creative endeavor to meet the needs of their kids. Please! It took me just a couple of minutes to fill out a simple form. Currently, they have 1,725 signatures with a goal of 2,500. As Bailey concluded: “I beg the State Board of Education to let Dynamic stay so that all of its students have a school they are happy to go to every day to learn and spend time with friends.”
Are these kids and their teachers superheroes? YES! See for yourself below.
What’s a parent to do when their special needs child is in dire straits? Perhaps start a charter school? I’ve been following the ups and downs of a nearby charter school with interest. Dynamic Community Charter School (DCCS) currently serves 64 students from 6th through 10th grade. A project-based school serving special needs kids, DCCS is in its 1st year of operation. The Charter School Advisory Board recommended that the school be shut down at the end of this year because of its continuing budgetary problems. They also alluded to observations of a “calmer” physical environment. I figured that meant the place was hopping with inappropriate activity when someone observed, but who knows?
I was intrigued when I read a parent response to this recommendation in The News and Observer. The column, entitled “Blindsided by Board: Heartbreak and outrage over recommendations to revoke charter of school for special needs students,” was written by a parent whose son attends DCCS. According to this parent, Jennifer Holt, DCCS has been run by parents “concerned for their special needs children- exhausted, desperate, intelligent, hard-working parents who completed extensive training but missed crossing a couple of T’s, leaving a significant financial deficit for the year.” Ms. Holt recounts the efforts of parents to raise money (they have until May). She said they were basically ready “to sell our souls to keep this school open for our children. The principal even offered not to draw a salary for the rest of the year.”
Why? Ms. Holt says they have given up on a system with overcrowded classrooms and an emphasis upon mainstreaming that was unsuccessful. She goes on to describe her son’s situation: “Bullied at recess, bullied in the bathroom, bullied at lunch. ‘There’s no recourse available. Just help him learn how to get through it.‘ These were actual words spoken to me by a teacher whose hands were tied in the case of a very large student who decided to make my son’s every day a living hell.” She says that her son is finally happy, is excited about going to school, and “is finally out in the world without his mother and thriving. He is finally learning with his peers. He is growing and making friends and even leading discussions- something that would never have happened in a traditional public school setting.”
I’ve checked out their website and blog (image below) and I’m hoping they get a chance to survive as a school. It’s easy to donate using PayPal. One size does not fit all.