By Sally Absher
This month The Focus will be presenting a series on Special Education. This is a topic that few of us think about, unless we have a child with special needs. Sadly, many regular and even special education teachers are not fully aware of the various laws and policies regarding special education.
And until recently, our Board of Education seemed content to ignore parents and others who asked for their assistance in getting the services and inclusion that the school system is, by law, required to provide.
At the end of the Regular Board of Education meeting last month, Lynne Fugate told parents who had come to speak on behalf of their children with special needs, “To the Special Education parents, we hear you. I talked to Dr. McIntyre – I would like for the board to have a mid-month workshop on exactly what are the Special Ed laws, exactly what’s going on…” The audience applauded, and well, you know the rest…
One of the parents present was Kim Kredich, a familiar face at Knox County BOE meetings as both a parent of a child with special needs, and advocate for all students with disabilities. Kim and her husband Matt, who is the UT Swimming and Diving head coach, have three boys: Miles, Ben, and Coleman. Miles and Ben are twins in their sophomore year at West High School. Ben has autism.
Miles created a mini-documentary video “EDUCATE-ABLE: A History of Educating Children with Disabilities in America” as a school project for National History Day (http://youtu.be/ZMpay6mdLYw) that provided much of the information for this week’s article. Please watch the video – it is worth the 8 minutes! Miles did the videography, narration, and composed and performed the music (piano, trumpet, and viola)!
Miles says that schools today are embracing diversity – with students of different ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, religions, and abilities. “Students with disabilities are being educated more effectively than ever before, and being included in their schools and communities as never before, because of relatively recent legislation.”
“But,” he says, “it wasn’t always this way.”
Before the 1800s, children with disabilities had no legal right to an education, and were either kept at home or sent to institutions. The first special education school in America was founded in 1817, and others followed. But although these schools claimed to educate, most of the children were removed from society, adding to the segregation in education.
In the mid-1900s, professionals started to see that social interaction between children with disabilities and those without had a positive impact on education. But many parents continued to send their children to mental institutions, because they believed they were the only places that offered the proper training for their child.
In the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement helped prompt the Disabilities Rights movement. People with disabilities fought for equal access to resources within their communities. Included in these resources was a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for all students with disabilities.
This led to legislation including the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. IDEA requires that every child with a disability that affects his or her education have an individualized education program, or IEP.
The IEP is a document created by a team stating how the child is going to be educated, how the student learns in the most effective way, lists short term and long term goals, and a plan for graduation.
The IEP team includes a school administrator, general education teacher, special education teacher, and an evaluator. Parents must be invited to all IEP meetings and are important members of the IEP team. A students’ eligibility for receiving services is renewed every 3 years, and the IEP is required to be revisited every year.
IDEA introduced the concept of least restrictive environment (LRE), which means that students with disabilities must have the opportunity to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.
The IEP team first considers that the student will be educated in the regular education classroom, with full accommodations such as sticky note reminders or creating audio tapes for tests; modifications such as changing the difficulty of assignments; or supports, such as physical therapy or a one-on-one aide for the student.
If a student is not able to be educated with accommodations, modifications, and a full range of supports, they are placed in a more restrictive environment such as a special education classroom, special school, or their own home.
All states have at least one parent training and information center to help parents of children with disabilities learn the IEP process, their child’s rights, and their own rights. They provide information on meetings, workshops, and internet videos. In Tennessee, go to http://tnstep.org. (STEP = Support and Training for Exceptional Parents).
But much of the progress towards lawful inclusion under IDEA is a result of parent advocacy. In 1980, Timothy v Rochester School District ruled that no matter the severity of the child’s disability, an appropriate educational program must be offered to that child.
In 1990, the American’s with Disabilities Act was passed, providing Americans with disabilities employment opportunities and public transportation. It prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Yet, at that time, only 7% of children with disabilities were included in regular education classrooms.
IDEA was reauthorized twice, in 1997 and 2004. Each time, the range of educational resources became more extensive, further promoting inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education setting.
As Miles points out, “Our generation has been fortunate to grow up being educated alongside peers of all abilities, and this perspective will no doubt lead us into an even more inclusive future.”
However, as Kim Kredich informed the BOE in December, Knox County is the only school district in the state that does not meet ANY of the state targets for the five Office of Special Education Programs Annual Performance Report education environments in terms of placement, setting, least restrictive environment, and inclusion measures.
We hope that this special Focus series will provide some education, enlightenment, and resources to help parents, BOE members, and the KCS administration rectify this embarrassing “worst in the state” ranking.