Tuesday, August 28, 2012
The Best Ways To Integrate Special Needs Students
Budget cuts in many school districts have some parents and teachers questioning whether they have the resources to support their students. NPR education correspondent Claudio Sanchez and Thomas Hehir of Harvard University talk about how to integrate special needs students into mainstream classrooms.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden, in Washington. A troubling new video has reinvigorated the debate over special needs education. A father was told his special needs child was unruly, so he sent him to school wearing a wire. On the recording, his son is harassed and mocked by a teacher and aide in a special needs classroom.
The video is only the latest example of a widespread sense of frustration about special education. What to do? Advocates often want special needs students to get their own classes, but school districts say that's expensive, and certainly in a time of budget cuts, mainstreaming is on the rise.
If you're the parent or teacher of a special needs student, what works? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, why some schools are forcing kids off their bikes and into cars.
But first, best practices for mainstreaming special needs students. Joining me now is NPR's education correspondent Claudio Sanchez here in Studio 3A. Hi, Claudio. Welcome.
CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Good to be here.
LUDDEN: So this is a trend that's been growing in public schools, but mainstreaming may not be a term that everyone's familiar with. Can you just tell us what it means?
SANCHEZ: Mainstreaming means that a child's instruction takes place in a classroom with non-disabled kids, regular kids, a decision based often on the special needs of that child. So, yes, there's an attempt to have this kid feel inclusive, be inclusive, but often it has to be tailor-made. That's where something very crucial here has to happen, and that is that an individual education plan be designed for this child, which calls for special accommodations, certainly special attention if necessary.
And this is all, of course, in the law, the 1975 law that actually was originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children's Act. It later became the Individual Disability Education Act, and that was, for the most part, kind of reauthorized in 1990.
LUDDEN: So, for decades, there's been this effort - so there was a sense beforehand that special needs kids were kind of shunted away and kept out of sight. Parents wanted them in the mainstream. And yet, as I understand it, there have been a lot of bad experiences in these mainstream classes.
SANCHEZ: And remember, they weren't just shunted away. They were literally kept out of school. I mean, for many, many years, these kids were warehoused somewhere else. Schools didn't deal with them. You know, it took several legal cases and challenges to that, most - especially in 1972 in Pennsylvania, which literally led to the creation of the law.
But you're right. The problem has been money, in many ways. You know, there's been an acceptance that these kids can learn, should be mainstreamed, but the money issue is huge. The federal government, when it authorized this law, more recently said we're going to contribute 40 percent - this is Congress talking - 40 percent of the funding for special education.
To this day, it's never been more than 18 percent. So that means that local and state education folks have to come up with the money somewhere, and we're talking about tens of thousands of dollars for every child, every year. So it's a very - it's a very difficult problem for schools because they don't have the money.
LUDDEN: And I guess more so now with - we've seen so many cuts at local school districts.
SANCHEZ: Exactly. And certainly in this time of austere and very limited budgets, I mean, where do you go? The federal government is not coming up with more money, believe me. States are obviously cutting left and right. So, I mean, often, it comes down to litigation on the part of parents. And if you have a good attorney, sometimes they get money out of the district to pay for these services or to put the child in a private program.
LUDDEN: So this terrible, painful video has surfaced of this child's experience. But I take it that's not a surprise to people who look at this field, that there's been a series of studies recently that show this these kinds of instances.
SANCHEZ: Yes, although I would say that the - you know, it's difficult to really document, certainly, every instance of abuse, but they are pretty common. You know, there are cases - there was on in Georgia, a 13-year-old boy committed suicide after being sent to an eight-by-eight, concrete-block time-out room in Gainesville, Georgia, at the public school there.
For students, this was a place that they put students in for behavioral problems. Then there was - you know, there are these famous screaming rooms that some schools have where teachers put kids when they're acting out, when they're out of control. And, you know, there was that famous case, I forget where, it may have been Kentucky, where a child was - who was misbehaving, a special ed kid, had been found stuffed in a duffel bag.
I mean, you know, you hear about these things, and you say this can't be. This has to be the exception to the rule. But you'd be surprised how often - I mean, some of these things aren't even reported, but it happens.
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