When Child 1 was in preschool and we were preparing for Kindergarten, I saw a post on a local mailing list written by a mom with a kid in Special Ed (SPED) asking what parents thought about the district's Inclusion Program, and worrying how other parents felt about it, etc. The majority of responses were positive, parents, in general, are able to appreciate the differentness in everybody and had good things to say about their experiences. Some responses were not so positive, though. Parents (nobody had the balls to sign their name, of course) said that SPED kids "stole" resources away from General Ed (GenEd) kids; in today's tough times, with budgets so tight, it "wasn't fair" that their kids were losing teacher time and resources because the district thought it was politically correct to put the SPED kids in the with the rest of them. Seriously. Someone said that.
So, Child 1, and myself, enter public elementary school knowing that people feel this way. (Okay, Child 1 doesn't know and even if he did he probably wouldn't care, it was just me that knew this) and at first I was afraid to even mention that he had a disability, but as the years have gone on I realize that there's a pretty good crew of folks at the school and I haven't much encountered that attitude. PHEW!
However, here's what I've learned about SPED and GenEd resources at our district that I wish I could have told myself, and those jackass other parents from the mailing list 5 years ago.
- Our district was apparently the birth place of Special Education; there was once a fantastic program, designed by parents, teachers and administrators, that actually fully included SPED kids and provided them the support they needed to get them an education. Awesome!
- SPED is federally funded. Services are paid for by a separate budget within the district, money which comes from the federal government, authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.
- Federal law (IDEA and NCLB) requires that districts adopt a "Response to Intervention" program which tries to identify kids who are struggling and get them extra help before they fall too far behind and instead of a referral to SPED. This is actually a good idea, don't you think? I think so. Not being sarcastic, I think that's really a good idea.
- The Department of Education has allowed school districts to use 15% of IDEA funding for early intervention services in regular education
Over time, though, our district has been moving away from the great inclusion program in favor of the RTI program which attempts to address the needs of all kids. They've been doing this, though, by taking already strapped SPED staff and basically just giving them extra work with extra kids. After all, they can use 15% of their IDEA budget to pay for their RTI, so why not just tack on some extra duties to the Resource staff already there? So what happened is that the Inclusion Coordinator became the Resource Coordinator, and while on paper the district said "you're 85% SPED and 15% GenEd" the reality is that she no longer has 30 or so kids with IEPs on her caseload, she now has every kid at the school on her caseload, about 400. Because every kid at the school is entitled to an "intervention" if they need it, or at least a referral, to the Resource Coordinator. (I'm not sure if that's her actual title, I don't remember)
My kid's disability manifests itself in the classroom by him sitting quietly, softly talking to himself, looking beautiful and doing an excellent job pretending to be paying attention, but not learning a single thing unless there's somebody standing over his shoulder the whole time. He has an aide (Federally funded!!) and there are a host of GenEd kids who are a huge disruption to the classroom. These kids don't have IEPs and I have no idea if they need one or not, but as they act out, the teacher, and my son's aide, are forced to turn their attention to those kids, while mine sits quietly, looking beautiful and not learning. Those GenEd kids, who don't have a 504 or an IEP, get referred to the Resource Coordinator as head of the Intervention team, because they're falling behind. Because the Resource Coordinator is now so strapped for time, I have a great deal of trouble even getting an IEP meeting scheduled. It's not her fault, she's doing the best she can, she just has way too much to do.
So, the bottom line, and I say this to the myself of five years ago, or anybody else who doesn't know any better, or anybody with a child in SPED entering a public school: At our district, it is actually the General Ed kids who steal resources and teacher time away from the Special Ed kids. In today's tough times, when budgets are so tight, it's really not fair that a federally funded program should be drained away by kids who don't qualify for it. Oh, yeah, that's right, I went there.