Inclusion of students with special needs was the topic for a school board study session.
Lawrence school board members, meeting in a study session Monday, heard one good reason the district has a special education program: It's mandated by the federal government.
By next fall, the local district plans to have all special-needs students educated in their neighborhood schools and, if possible, in regular education classrooms. That concept is called "inclusion."
Special education director Doug Eicher told board members that the district has reversed the idea that special-needs students must work their way out of specialized classrooms into regular education classrooms.
And he said case law that has grown out of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) supports the placement of students with special needs in regular education classrooms in neighborhood schools.
"Special education is very controversial," Eicher said. "You're never going to please everybody."
Eicher said the district is working to help regular-education teachers work with special-needs students.
"We know staff development is going to be an ongoing thing," he said.
That struck a chord with board member Maley Wilkins.
"I think it's our obligation to make sure teachers have the tools to teach the children who come their way," she said.
The number of students with disabilities has increased in Lawrence schools. Eicher said that six years ago, 992 special-needs students were identified. That number stood at 1,345 last month. Those statistics do not include gifted-education students, whose numbers have remained fairly constant during the past few years.
Some of the increases could be attributed to increased awareness about disabilities on the part of doctors and parents, he said.
Eicher said he's concerned that the number of students with learning and behavior disorders has increased. For example, the number of children with learning disorders increased from 468 in December 1990 to 632 last month.
"This is not a natural trend," he said.
He thinks the district should address that concern at an earlier age.
"The large jump is coming in elementary schools," he said.
The board also heard from Mike Remus, state director of special education, who agreed with board member John Tacha that the Kansas Legislature should provide additional funding to districts for special-needs students.
In addition, Kevin Brothers discussed the district's program for autistic children in elementary schools. That program has seen remarkable growth recently, increasing from 13 in May 1995 to 35 last month.
Tacha asked Eicher how he should respond to parents of regular-education students who are concerned that schools spend a good deal of time and money on students with special needs.
Eicher said the bottom line is that special education programs for students with disabilities are mandated by the federal government and that programs for gifted students are mandated by the state government.
"If it isn't an option, it makes it a lot easier to understand and explain," said board member George Crawford.