The six candidates for Lawrence school board Monday endorsed inclusion of special-education students in regular classrooms.
However, the candidates also said there were instances in which some children with disabilities would be better served by attending public school in alternative classroom settings.
"Inclusion is a very good thing for most students," said incumbent Leni Salkind.
A former teacher, Salkind said the district could make better use of staff and funding by clustering severely disabled children in a few schools. Special-education teachers spend too much time driving from school to school instead of working with kids, she said.
Candidate Kurt Thurmaier, a Kansas University faculty member, said the old approach of excluding all special-education students was wrong. So too are modern efforts to integrate all special-education students in regular classrooms, he said.
Candidates also talked about school equity, budgeting and a vision for the 10,300-student school district at a forum attended by 75 people in Lawrence High School. It was sponsored by League of Women Voters and LHS Youth in Local Government and Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
Federal law mandates public school districts provide free, appropriate education to disabled students in the least restrictive environment. That means 1,500 special-education children face inclusion in Lawrence's classrooms.
Businessman Dale Vestal said that at times districts went too far with inclusion. Some children are in general-education classrooms for the wrong reasons, he said.
"Many times we do things to make ourselves feel good," Vestal, said.
Austin Turney, who is seeking re-election, said keeping as many special-education students in regular classrooms as possible allowed staff and students to appreciate differences.
"Diversity is something we can be proud of," said candidate and social worker Nicole Rials.
Linda Robinson, KU faculty development program director, said new and existing general-education teachers should receive more training in special education than now required.