At least, sometimes they are: in my last blog entry, I wrote about a poll that suggested only about a quarter of the public, including public school teachers, supported having children with emotional and behavioral disorders educated in the regular classroom.
But parents of children with disabilities in the 10,400-student Tuscaloosa, Ala., district fought a plan to close a school that educated only students with disabilities.
The Department of Education’s office of civil rights got involved in the Tuscaloosa situation, because parents complained that by taking the children out of Oak Hill School and returning them to their neighborhood schools, the district was denying the children access to the specialized services they needed.
The civil rights office recently concluded that there was no evidence that students in neighborhood schools were failing to get appropriate services. But it sounds like parents ultimately got what they wanted, which was to have the special education school remain open.
In a news release issued on Nov. 7, 2007, the school system announced that Oak Hill would close and that at least 88 special-needs students would be transferred to their neighborhood schools because of federal guidelines. Superintendent of Education Joyce Levey said the school’s closing would put the city school system in compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which states that special education students should receive educational services with their non-disabled peers 80 percent of the time. After an outcry from parents that culminated in an emotional public meeting on Nov. 13, the school system reversed course and kept the school open. Parents and teachers argued that Oak Hill provided an environment for special-needs students that could not be duplicated elsewhere.
I’m not sure, but the 80 percent recommendation Levey refers to appears to come from the relatively new annual performance reports that states must file with the Department of Education. The department monitors and grades states on 34 special education “indicators,” one of which is how many students are removed from regular class less than 21 percent of the day and how many students are removed from regular class more than 60 percent of the day. The goal is to have students placed in the “least restrictive environment” that meets their educational needs.
A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.