If there were ever an opportunity to witness Dr. Schuster’s spin on a grand scale, residents of D181 will have the chance on Monday, 11/4 starting at 7pm at Madison School when Schuster’s outside special education “expert” presenters, including one with political affiliation, will provide the BOE and community with their thoughts on the philosophy of Learning for All. These three presenters, who are currently affiliated with the Regional Office of Education (ROE), will give their insight as to the benefits of inclusion while highlighting the mantra of Learning for All. We find the timing of this presentation curious as the ISAT results have just been released, and the majority of D181 schools have fallen, some drastically, in state rankings. In typical Board and administration fashion, they have structured this Committee of the Whole meeting to include these so-called special education experts in order to control the discussion and limit comments from concerned parents. We hope parents recognize this continuing strategy and are able to see through the smoke as the spin begins.
We wish to acknowledge first and foremost, that we emphatically agree with the concept of inclusion, which originated in 1975 as part of the PL 94-142 (Education for All Handicapped Act), which is now called IDEA that guides special education services. By no means are we suggesting that special education students should not be included in the regular classroom; we support these efforts when appropriate. However, what the majority of the Board and Dr. Schuster’s administration are trying to promote is the concept that full inclusion for every child within a single classroom, with no child being labeled or pulled out for services, is the best strategy by which to educate every child. While this might sound wonderful in theory, the reality of a classroom teacher being able to differentiate to 22 or more students every day, all day, with limited resources and staff support, is not a practical reality. It also is counter to IDEA that states “a child with special needs must be educated in the least restrictive, most appropriate environment.” This may or may not mean full inclusion is the best approach to meeting the needs of the child. The child needs to be first and foremost in this planning, not some general philosophy of a superintendent or assistant superintendent. The decision on where a child is placed should begin first with what is best for the individual child, not an administrator’s ideal of where all children should be placed. The district should not have a policy that encompasses “all” when every child is unique and should be treated as such. The law is very clear on the focus of the individual child. That is why we have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to support students in their growth and learning.
And let’s be clear: the Advanced Learning Plan (now the Learning for All plan) is following the concept of full inclusion for all, regardless of ability level or required special services. What was originally targeted for special education has now been generalized to the entire student population, and we are now beginning to see the results of this experiment. Contrary to what Dr. Schuster has stated on Board Docs under Learning for All, this plan was indeed implemented in full in the 2012/2013 school year. We can personally attest to the sweeping changes that affected our children during the entire year. The math compacting experiment in last year’s third grade is an example of the Learning for All plan in action, and we know how that experiment ended, with dismal results for the majority of district children. We also know that students across the district were heterogeneously grouped last year. The ISAT results, which prove a downward trend for all schools except Oak, Madison, and Walker, although these schools are still moving downward from their highs in 2004 and 2006, show the negative effects of the Learning for All Plan; for Dr. Schuster and any member of the board to imply they don’t is disingenuous to the parents.
Bottom line: Requesting outside special education experts to speak to the community is clearly a strategy in diversion that the board president has agreed to with hopes it will quiet the naysayers. To the entire Board of Education: do what you were elected to do and ask the tough questions about the performance of our children now that these changes have been in place for at least a year. Amidst the smoke, look in the mirror; do you honestly like what you see?