The move toward integrating special education students into regular classroom settings is well under way in the United States.
But with all the demands teachers are shouldering already, how will they find time to meet special needs as well? And what about students with violent behavior disorders? Should they be integrated along with everybody else?
Those were just some of the questions that surfaced Wednesday night during a public forum called "Inclusive Education: Issues, Trends and Concerns." About 300 people attended the forum, which was held at Kansas University's Kansas Union. The forum was sponsored by the Kansas State Board of Education and KU's Department of Special Education.
The forum featured four experts in inclusive education: Richard Villa, director of instructional services for the Winooski, Vt., school district; Wayne Sailor, professor of special education at KU; Gary Clark, professor of special education at KU; and Sheldon Braaten, coordinator of Harrison Secondary School in Minneapolis, Minn.
SAILOR SAID many people have misconceptions about inclusive education, such that even the most severely disabled students are mainstreamed into all classes. He said some people might envision a severely disabled student in a chemistry class and think "What's going to happen to the Bunsen burners and the nitric acid? It's going to be a disaster."
Clark said that while English lessons on Geoffrey Chaucer and math lessons on the Pythagorean theorem are important for most high school students, for some special education students "that is completely inappropriate for them intellectually and in terms of (learning) life skills."
SAILOR SAID that in his definition of inclusive education:
Students with special needs attend what would normally be their neighborhood school.
Students identified as having special needs are no longer relegated to an isolated, self-contained program. Instead, they spend as much time as possible in regular classroom settings. And when they're not in a regular classroom, they are taken to a multi-purpose resource room that sometimes is used by other students as well.
Support for students with special needs is coordinated among special education teachers and regular education teachers.
The four panelists took written questions from the audience, and one person asked about integrating violent students.
Braaten, whose school is solely for violent and assaultive students that no other schools will accept, said he could appreciate that concern, adding, "It seems to me that regular education kids have some rights as well."
HE TOLD of one group of parents in a regular school who were so bothered by the assaultive behavior of one student that they refused to let their children attend the class as long as the student was in it.
Braaten said he thinks behavior disorder students need to understand that no form of violence will be tolerated. Otherwise, he said, "You don't get included as far as I'm concerned."
Another person wanted to know how regular education teachers can be expected to spend more time collaborating with special education teachers when they're already heavily burdened.
Sailor said California offered grants to school districts that moved toward inclusive education. He said the grant moneys allowed schools to hire substitutes while teachers worked out a plan for integrating students with special needs. Sailor said school districts need financial assistance in moving toward inclusive education, especially in the startup phase.
VILLA said "special education is giving general education a tremendous gift" by introducing learning strategies and discipline systems beneficial for regular education students as well as special education students.
Villa said educators still have much to learn.
"We have to continue to grow. We have to continue to evolve," he said. "I think we can have schools where there is equity and excellence for all children."