Now, for those of you who have not been baptized into the world of special education, allow me to submerge you. Inclusion is when you take special education children and put them in regular education classrooms. That, of course, is a an extreme oversimplification, but hopefully you get the idea.
My sister, who turned 32 back in September, started off her public school education in a so-called “special” school. It was a school made just for special needs kids. Let me say something very clearly—I am not talking about kids who need extra help in math or reading and go out for a couple of classes a day for special education. To me, that’s a whole other issue, although I could give you a good argument about why inclusion for those kids is misguided, too. For now, the kids I’m talking about are kids like my sister, and like my daughter.
Where was I? Right–Mindy. She went to a special school. This school was full of kids with varying levels of disability, but all of them were considered pretty severe. Lots of kids in wheelchairs, kids who couldn’t talk, kids who were very challenged. In this school, there were whole classrooms stuffed with physical therapy equipment. There were therapists on staff all day who stayed at that school. All day. The teachers were qualified special education teachers. The aides were special ed aides. They knew first aid. They knew how to deal with seizures, and how to administer Diastat. Don’t know what that is? Tough. I’m not telling. They worked on skills which hopefully made the kids more functional, and as independent as possible. For all of our efforts at home, it was an aid at this special school who finally potty trained my sister. She fit in there. She wasn’t an object of pity–she was a member of a group. Those were her peers.
Then one day some bleeding heart politically correct politician decided that these kids were segregated. It was wrong to keep them separated from the regular ed kids. So they mainstreamed them. They put them in regular school.
Okay. We can deal with that. Right?
Things started to slip through the cracks. The funding of special ed programs became much more ambiguous because they were now all mixed in with everything else. Consider the following: the board of education in our county requests permission to bill WV Medicaid for services provided to my special ed daughter. In due course they receive reimbursement from WV Medicaid, and they then put that money back into special education.
Hahahahahahahaha! Whew! That was funny, wasn’t it? Of course they don’t put the money back into special education. They put it into the general fund, where it can then be spent on football uniforms for the local high schools. (Or whatever.) I called the state department of education to see if this was legal, and after one thousand transfers and a bunch of hem hawing, I finally received the most unsurprising answer in the history of the universe: there is no policy dictating what the school boards do with the money they receive back from Medicaid. So I withdrew my permission for the board to bill my daughters card, and I review all of her charges each year to make sure they don’t. Because there is a policy which requires my written permission for them to bill Medicaid. I happily deny that permission each year.
I’m getting off topic a little here (as usual). My point was inclusion. I don’t understand it. Who are we trying to make feel better? Kids like my daughter get absolutely nothing from a regular ed classroom. A regular ed teacher is not qualified to teach her. Instead of learning to be functional, suddenly now it’s important for her to know the days of the week.
Don’t get me wrong. Knowing the days of the week comes in handy, especially on Friday. But she’s not there yet. She may never be there. And I need her to have a teacher who understands that. What I don’t need for her is a babysitter.
Because that’s what it boils down to. That’s what happens to severely challenged kids in the regular ed environment. They are just there. People say it helps the other kids be more accepting. Great. Guess what? It’s not my daughter’s responsibility to teach other kids to be accepting. That’s their parent’s job. Everyone always loved my sister, and she got a standing ovation on her graduation day, but so what? Everyone liked her, sure, but she was still left out of everything. Why? Because she had no peers there. There was one other kid with her, and thank goodness he was there, or she would have been completely alone. We all need to feel like we belong, like there are others who are like us and understand a little what it’s like to be us. Why should we take that away from special ed kids just to make everyone else feel good about themselves?
As far as parents who support inclusion, I don’t know what to think about them. My best opinion is that they think maybe their special ed kid will be able to learn more in that environment. My worst opinion is that they are trying to convince themselves that their kid is like everyone else. Here’s the bad news: your kid is NOT like everyone else. They don’t fit in. Those regular ed kids are NOT their peers, and that will never change, even if they sit in that regular ed classroom forever.
My daughter is special, and she requires special education–all day, every day. She has to have her diaper changed. Is the regular teacher going to take a break from her teaching to do that? The county doesn’t like having a designated aid for a special ed student, so what other option is there?
Let her go to music class or gym with everyone else if it makes everyone happy, but she has no business in a regular ed classroom. Period. I’m her mother. I’m not worried about being politically correct–I’m worried about what’s best for her.
***Note: my daughter happens to be in a very good educational situation right now. However, I’m not going to go into it. I have my reasons. Trust me. I’m just using her as an example. That’s the price of being my kid, I guess.