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'Inclusion Harmed Johnny's Education'

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This is one of seven commentaries on the topic of inclusion from "To the Best of Their Abilities".

Johnny arrived in my 1st-grade classroom in November 1994. He came from another school within our district because he had recently been assigned to new foster parents and had had problems at his former school. At that school, he was in a Title I classroom with 13 students. My classroom was a regular 1st-grade classroom with 34 students.

When a new student enters my classroom, I try to discern what reading and math skills the student has. Johnny did not know any vocabulary words except for the word "I," for which he used the sign-language symbol. When he saw the word "dog," he barked.

Johnny's records arrived from the previous school a couple of weeks later. He had failed 1st grade, had attended six different schools, and was home-schooled from March to June of the previous year.

In all my years of teaching, I had never seen behavior quite like Johnny's. For instance, when he was at the reading circle, he would peel and eat the paint off the walls; he rarely opened his reading book or did the written work. He frequently refused to join the circle. Many times, he would join us only if I escorted him. At other times, he would just start running around the room.

Johnny did many other unusual things. He would write on his head with a pencil and then eat the pencil. He was rarely in his seat. He would hide in the coat room, under his desk, or run out of the classroom. I would have to chase him, leaving my classroom unattended. Thank goodness for the support of other staff members who would help me find him.

Johnny would laugh spontaneously and throw things when he became frustrated, especially if he was losing in a game. I told him that he needed to raise his hand if he wanted to answer a question. So he learned instead to yell out, "I'm raising my hand; I want to talk."

Johnny's behavior outside the classroom disrupted other teachers and their classes. I had to hold his hand when our class walked through the halls, and I learned to stand in the doorway when he went to the bathroom. Once I let Johnny go to the bathroom by himself, and he sprayed the bathroom with urine.

My students and I suffered many months as a result of Johnny's behavior problems. Parents would call and complain. Many would tell me that their child was upset by Johnny's behavior in class. Some students thought that his behavior was acceptable and started to copy it. Far too much of my attention was spent trying to keep Johnny on task and limit his disruptions to my classroom. Still, I never felt that I was meeting Johnny's needs--or those of my 33 other students. I simply did not have the training or time to help Johnny learn.

Because I had no training in special education myself, I did not know how to help him. He clearly needed special assistance, though, so I referred him to the school counselor and nurse. I also arranged to have a behavior specialist observe his behavior.

The behavior specialists for our district are certified severe-behavior-disorder specialists with years of experience working with that handicap. The specialist observed Johnny's behavior in my classroom and together we set up a behavior-intervention program. She came in weekly to check on his progress, but he did not respond to any behavior-modification techniques. We decided that he needed more one-on-one learning to be successful. After lengthy due-process procedures, Johnny was placed in a severe-behavior classroom in a separate facility. Since then, he has been transferred to a severe-behavior classroom affiliated with a local hospital's child psychiatric unit.

When Johnny left my classroom after a long five months, I thought, "Great, he can get help, and I can go back to teaching my other students." But he still affected my classroom, because students continued to act like him. I had to start my class over as if it were the first day of school.

Johnny was not in the appropriate setting in my classroom. He had needs that I, as a regular-classroom teacher, could not address. His inclusion in my classroom harmed my teaching, my other students, and Johnny's education.

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