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Spec.-Ed. Bill Seeks More Say for W.Va. Teachers

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The West Virginia legislature was close late last week to passing a bill that would give regular-education teachers more authority in determining how the mainstreaming of special-needs students shapes their classrooms.

The legislation mandates that regular teachers have a hand in crafting both their schools' special-education programs and their students' individualized education plans. It would also allow teachers to call meetings of a student's I.E.P. committee when they see fit.

The House has already passed the measure, and the Senate was slated to vote on it late last week. Senators could approve the House bill, which would clear the measure for Gov. Gaston Caperton, or amend it, which would lead to a conference committee to resolve differences.

The legislation grew out of complaints from regular-education teachers about the way districts have been implementing inclusive practices, according to Kayetta Meadows, the president of the West Virginia Education Association.

More broadly, the West Virginia bill reflects a growing restiveness nationally on the part of teachers' unions toward efforts to educate more students with disabilities in regular classrooms.

The American Federation of Teachers late last year called for a moratorium on the "full inclusion'' movement. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)

Teachers, Not Nurses

In West Virginia, Ms. Meadows said, teachers have not even been told which of their students have special needs, in addition to not receiving the necessary training or staff to respond to those needs.

The legislation also addresses teachers' fear of inclusion, Ms. Meadows suggested, by making them a part of the planning process.

"They want to be trained,'' she said. "They want to know what's expected of them.''

Under the proposed law, each school's faculty would develop a "strategic plan'' for bringing students with disabilities into regular classrooms. County superintendents would then create a district plan incorporating the school plans.

The legislation also would require school districts to provide personnel to take on some of the medical duties, such as dispensing medicine and changing tracheal tubes, currently performed with increasing frequency by teachers, and to offer medical training to teachers.

"Teachers feel they're being hired to teach,'' Ms. Meadows said, "not to be nurses in the classroom.''

Devastating Costs Feared

The potential cost of the measure has stirred concerns both in the legislature and among local educators.

Del. Roman W. Prezioso Jr., who sponsored the legislation, said lawmakers are troubled by the provision that would take some medical responsibilities away from teachers.

Putting more medical professionals into the schools to perform those tasks could be expensive for districts that are already unable to provide enough health workers, Mr. Prezioso said.

"It's slowed the legislation down,'' he said.

Another potentially expensive provision would require that schools reduce class sizes as they bring in special-needs students.

In Wood County, for example, the resulting increase in teacher pay and benefits alone would cost up to $1.1 million a year after the first year, according to Lora Swarr, the district's supervisor of special-education services.

Delegate Prezioso predicted that current special-education funding levels would be able to cover cost increases in the first year. But Ms. Swarr said she has her doubts.

"Without proper funding,'' she said, "this would be devastation for our county.''

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