A few days ago, the Kansas City Star published this article about a Wichita district school for students with emotional and mental disabilities enrolling a new category of students—those who face suspension or expulsion but will be given a second choice at graduating.
Instead of its own school mascot, the gym wall at Sowers Alternative High School has the mascots from all seven of the Wichita district's comprehensive high schools painted on it. Sowers students, most of whom are diagnosed with emotional and mental disabilities, ideally will make the transition into one of those high schools. But in reality, principal Jackie Hultman said, only about 10 percent of its students ever transfer out of the school's concentrated special-education environment. "It's better if we maintain it for kids who need it," said Neil Guthrie, director of special education for the school district. But to keep up with federal guidelines, the Wichita district will have to move more special-education students out of Sowers and bring regular-education students into the special school. The school board has already taken the first step by voting to change the way it categorizes Sowers High School, along with Wells Middle School and Griffenstein Elementary School. Formerly called "special education centers," they will now be known as "alternative schools." The first change at Sowers will be this school year, when the school accepts students who have faced suspension or expulsion for unintentional battery of school employees but have a second chance at graduating.
I recommend reading the entire story, if for no other reason than it includes a brief comment from Alexa Posny, the nominee for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, who has been the subject of a lot of chatter in my blog post here.
I understand what’s going on here; the district is under some pressure to provide students with disabilities education in a more inclusive environment. But the early implementation of this program suggests that there won’t be that much inclusiveness to start with. The new students, who are facing expulsion, will be using their own bathrooms and entrances.
The administrators say they envision more interaction, but the story goes on to say that hasn’t really been the case in the Olathe district. However, the combined program has led to money saved through staffing efficiencies, which I would imagine might be more important to some school officials during these money-strapped times.
I’m curious to know if there are many other combined programs like this, and if others have seen them serve the stated purpose of providing more inclusion opportunities for students with disabilities. It seems to me like it will take some real imagination and effort on the part of all the educators involved to make sure that these students are really learning with each other, and not just near each other.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.