In Part One of this series, I introduced the concept of Universal Design for Learning. Then, in part Two of this series, I identified the legal and research bases that support inclusive education. And, in Part Three of this series, I looked at how goals can be tailored to meet individual needs while also being “inclusion-forward.” Goals drive services and, if you are in a district where inclusive practices are not encouraged and supported, often IEP teams claim that the student needs specialized instruction and services that can only be provided in a pull-out environment – either a resource room or a self- contained classroom. While more than 40 years of law and research all support inclusion as not only the legally required standard for educating students with disabilities but the placement option with the best long-term outcomes, the reality is that many school districts do not celebrate diversity and inclusion is not the norm. As a result, many parents who want to follow the research and seek inclusive placements face arguments often raised at the IEP table by the district administrator and supported by general and education representatives who are motived by their own fears or lack of training. A recent study found that general education teachers and paraprofessionals feel unprepared and untrained to support included students. Diament, M. “Survey Finds Teachers, Paraeducators Largely Inprepared for Students with IEPs. Disability Scoop. July 9, 2019. Web. Thus, general and special education teachers will raise many arguments to support district administrators who seek to segregate a student with a disability into a self-contained classroom (or, a significant amount of pull-out support in the resource room).
It is thus critical to “make the record” at the IEP meeting. Placement is a team determination, and the reality is that if you ask the right questions and make the right arguments, many of the excuses advanced at IEP meetings can be neutralized. Here are just a few.
1. Johnny needs small group instruction to make progress on his goals.
How do they know that? If the student, for example, has never been in the district (e.g. was privately placed for preschool and is coming into the district at kindergarten transition) or is new to the district, how do they know that the student “needs” small group instruction? And, more importantly, how do they know that Johnny can NOT make progress that is meaningful in light of his disability in a general education placement. What is their proof? What is their evidence? If this is a student who has been segregated in a self-contained classroom and the desire is to move him to a less restrictive placement, one avenue is to fight for a change of placement in stages. First, ask for “mainstreaming” for science and social studies and ask for science and social study goals. In that way, data can be obtained. Most students in self-contained classrooms get little science or social studies but many of a student’s goals that are perceived to be appropriate for a FAPE can be implemented in science and social studies. Consider these goals often seen in IEPs for segregated students:
a. By annual review, Student will demonstrate comprehension of text at his instructional level by answering WH questions with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher collected data.
b. By annual review, Student will compose a 4-5 word sentence with 80% accuracy as measured by student work samples.
When you ask for examples to show how these goals were implemented, you often get ones that are pretty stupid. Sorry – there is no other word to describe some of the examples I have been given. The student reads along with some Unique Learning System (or Edmark) story of the month, about some seasonally thematic unit (“Back to School”, “The Haunted House”, “Thanksgiving at Grandma’s”.) They are then asked to fill out some worksheets with WH questions like: “What month do we go back to school?” Or “Whose house did we go to for Thanksgiving”. The student then is asked to write some 4–5-word sentences about these stories, often with sentence frames and/or word bank accommodations:
For Thanksgiving, we _________ ____ ____________ _________.
The haunted house was _______ and ________.
Why not amend the goals to target grade level science and social studies content (as a stepping stone for the following year to seek inclusion forward goals that can be implemented throughout a general education classroom day):
a. By annual review, Student will demonstrate comprehension of grade level science and social studies text, adapted to his instructional level, by answering WH questions with 80% accuracy as measured by teacher collected data.
b. By annual review, Student will compose a 4-5 word sentence about grade level science and social studies lessons, adapted to his instructional level, with 80% accuracy as measured by student work samples.
All grade level science and social studies content can and should be adapted as needed so that students who read well below grade level, or are nonreaders, can access the curriculum. Special education staff have already adapted text for hundreds of science and social studies standards to levels accessible by students with disabilities. My favorite one right now is Tarheel Reader. You can put any science or social studies topic in the search engine and some teacher has likely written a short, simple text with pictures about the subject. If there isn’t something already adapted about the common core subject, staff can use the Tarheel Reader website to create an adapted text. The student can then be asked WH questions about his or her science adapted text and write simple 4-5 word sentences about science or social studies. If it is reasonable for a third-grade student to write a sentence like, “For Thanksgiving, we went to grandma’s house”, why not write a sentence like “Earth is the third planet from the sun” (which relates to the third-grade science standard to study the planets). A sentence frame and word bank and picture cards can be used to facilitate these types of questions as well as the ones that are used to target progress on goals in an SDC class.
The value of proposing this as a “friendly amendment” to an IEP comprehension and writing goal, is that it would REQUIRE science and social studies content. It becomes easier then to ask for mainstreaming and to argue for mainstream time. If science and social studies is an hour a day, that is one hour that is NOT in an SDC class. If you then also ask for mainstream time for 100% of all electives (like art, music, computer, library), 100% of gen ed PE, and you add lunch and recess, you are probably “inside” general education (in terms of percentage of time) between 1/3 and 40% of the school day. You then can use that time to “prove” that progress can be made on the goals. If progress can be made in such a large, unstructured (and not small group) instruction time, then the following year when they say “Johnny needs small group instruction to make progress”, you can say “well, actually, he does not”. And that can then serve as a jumping off point to ask for MORE time in gen ed until you are MORE than 50% and can then seek a change in placement (in districts that still name placements – e.g. “ASD class” “Critical Skills class”); some districts have tried to blur the lines to give them unlimited power to move special education students anywhere they want. These include most in Arizona – they now call all “placements” – Special Ed classroom and the “placement” is the percentage of time outside general education. The point here is that if you want to try to be collaborative and your special education placement is not awful, you can try to “up” your general education time in increments. You can be in a gen ed classroom for 55% of the time and a “special ed classroom” 45% of the time if there is a need for that. Yes, I agree that a student shouldn’t have to “prove his entitlement” to be in a gen ed setting but this is one strategy that can work.
But the other response to “Johnny needs small group instruction” is to fight the location of the instruction. Most general education teachers use small group instruction throughout their instructional time. Consider general education reading in elementary school. Many teachers homogenously group students by reading level into numbered groups (or groups with names like “the green group”). After providing instruction in the general education literacy lesson for the day (usually 15-20 minutes), the students go back to their tables and do independent work while the teacher calls up groups to work on decoding and reading comprehension. As a result, if “Johnny needs small group instruction”, why can’t he get it in the general education classroom? Ask the general education teacher at an IEP meeting if she provides some small group instruction during reading rotations. If the teacher admits that she has groups, the “answer” then is simple: “Well, if Johnny can ONLY make progress in reading with small group instruction, the good news is that there is small group instruction available in the general education setting”. That usually results in some embarrassment, hums and haws because clearly, they did not intend that Johnny stay in the general education setting for reading. The gen ed teacher may then say “Well, I don’t have a group at his level”? The answer to that is simple: “So, the only students you can teach are those that fit into the groups you already have? You clearly are qualified to teach him at his level, are you refusing to do so because he might be in a group of one?” As this sounds like discrimination, they usually say “of course not”, and you can say “Great, we would love him to benefit from your teaching techniques”. Alternatively, ask for the special education teacher to “push into” the general education classroom to help and provide whatever level of reading instruction is necessary for Johnny. If they claim this is too isolating as he needs a peer, and you want to compromise, you can agree that the 20 to 30 minute time that Johnny would be in a group of one in the gen ed class can be “pulled out” to a resource room to find a peer but the REST of the ELA instruction, including the group literacy lesson and the independent learning time when other groups are getting small group reading instruction time from the teacher, he can participate in the gen ed classroom with adapted curriculum and aide support. Those other rotations are things like a vocabulary worksheet, journal writing, listening lab/SRA, etc. etc. All of those are readily differentiated by any instructional assistant helping to implement Johnny’s goals in an inclusive setting.
2. Janey needs the expertise of a special education teacher for specially designed instruction (or as it is called in California, Specialized Academic Instruction) to make progress on her goals.
I love this excuse. When I have heard it, I ask the special education teacher: “Can you share with me what makes your instruction in math (or reading, or social emotional) ‘special’? They may be offended or express confusion about what I am asking. I then get very direct – “well, if you are going to use some special techniques and believe some special techniques are needed, let’s discuss what they are and what they look like – I’d like to know because if they are necessary to provide Janey with a FAPE, we need to list them in the IEP.” They then say things like “Well, I use direct instruction, and repetition, modeling, and visuals to aide in comprehension”. Whatever they say, always ask: “Anything else?” Then ask the general education teacher: “Do you use direct instruction for your reading groups too? And do you differentiate for your students so that if they need repetition, you use repetition with them? Do you model to guide your students? Do you use visuals, including referring back to the pictures in the text, to support comprehension?”
Turns out that there really isn’t a whole lot “special” about “special education”. I don’t say that to denigrate special educators who work tirelessly and have a very hard job. But the reality is that much of special education is no different than what general education teachers do. General Education teachers often are using the same strategies as special education teachers. In a special education setting, what is often different is that they are using text that is at a lower level. But general education elementary school teachers differentiate text for reading groups too. If they are using a structured reading curriculum, like SRA or ReadWell, you “assess” the student at the outset (running reading records/DRA/DIBELS) and he or she accesses the supplemental texts that are used in reading groups at their Lexile level.
Even if the “something special” in the special education classroom is a different reading curriculum – e.g. an Orton Gillingham reading curriculum for a student with dyslexia (which actually is very special and, as such, should be separately listed on the IEP as the reason why the student needs to be separated into the special education classroom (e.g. “Student needs an intervention multisensory reading curriculum to make progress on his or her reading goals”), most such programs, implemented with fidelity, may only require 45 minutes to 1 hour a day. If so, the rest of the ELA instructional time could well be in general education settings.
There may be a reason to remove the student. Stay tuned for part 5 of this series where I share success stories that include students who were removed from full time placement in a low-functioning SDC class to different placements. Some of those students continued in self-contained classrooms or resource rooms for some instruction. The art is to follow the research and the law and the individual needs of the student so that when removing a student, the team considers the LEAST AMOUNT OF TIME NECESSARY for the provision of FAPE. FAPE means challenging goals that enable the student to make progress that is meaningful for the student in light of his or her disability. (See Endrew F. V. Douglas County School Dist., 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017). So, if the student can make progress on his or her goals in the general education setting, that is FAPE and is his least restrictive environment (LRE). The key is to limit the amount to the minimum necessary and look at that through the lens of the general education schedule – when during the day does the student NEED to be removed from the general education classroom to receive FAPE on his or her goals. Rarely will it be necessary to remove a student from science, social studies, electives, PE, recess, lunch. That leaves ELA and Math. How much of that period does the student need to be removed and why? If the student then also has pull out speech (OT for fine motor can and usually should be “pushed into” the general education setting), WHEN during the day will that be pulled? I often will use the last half of math for speech because the math block is often pretty long and the last half is where students are doing a worksheet to implement the lesson of the day that was taught in the first half; that worksheet can come home to be done as homework without the student missing science or social studies or an elective when speech therapists often will pull students for speech (and these are the BEST opportunities for social inclusive opportunities as there is a lot of group work in these subjects) so should never be used for pull out services.
So, how to you get from “needs to be in an SDC for the majority of his/her day” to “can be educated in a general education setting for most of his/her day? One strategy that I do is start with the general education teacher and ask the teacher to give us a break down of his or her day. This will be one of the FIRST things done at an IEP meeting. I ask specific and direct questions to get the daily schedule. It often looks like this:
8:30-8:50: Morning meeting, calendar, bellringer activities
8:50-10:00 ELA (starts as a large group with introduction to lesson/activity, and description of the rotational activities – then is broken down into 4 rotational periods of 15 to 20 minutes each where students work on the assigned activities and teacher pulls reading groups)
10:15-11:00 Continue ELA (often writing instruction, vocabulary/word work, spelling)
11:45-12:30 lunch and recess
12:30-1:00 story time
1:00-2:30 science, social studies and electives including PE
If you get a schedule such as this for an elementary school student, when the District suggests an SDC class as the primary placement, you need to stop them from arbitrarily determining the amount of time in the SDC. What often happens is that they break down the services to things like “basic reading/decoding”, “reading comprehension”, “written expression”, “math computation”, “Math reasoning” and they put 30-45 minutes for each one and by then, you have eaten up most of the academic time of the school day. Instead, the minute they start to arbitrarily put a time on “decoding”, you can and should say: “We are required to include Johnny to the maximum extent appropriate - and many of his goals can be worked on in a general education setting. As such, I would like to go back to the general education teacher’s schedule and minute by minute ask whether or not Jonny can be included for that activity”. If you do that, what you will find is that most of the time, Johnny can be included and during the inclusion times, he can work on his goals (e.g. in the three rotations of ELA that are not when the gen ed teacher pulls up students to have homogenous reading groups, Johnny can work on HIS decoding, comprehension, and writing goals, in addition to his social/emotional goals, by working with peers at HIS level). In the schedule above, there is NO reason Johnny can’t be included in morning meeting, recess, lunch, story time, science, social studies and electives. Why does Johnny need “special ed” to access those portions of the day? Bellringer activities can be individualized by level, story time can be accommodated with access to adapted text/visuals, and all science and social studies can be individualized (see above for examples of goals that can be implemented in science and social studies). So, that leaves math and ELA. There was almost 2 hours of ELA instruction and 45 minutes of math. The question for the team is “why does the student need to be segregated and for how long?” If it is for separate reading curriculum (like an Orton Gillingham based reading curriculum which is research based and often very important for students with Dyslexia and other language-based reading disabilities), ask: What does the research for that program say is necessary to implement the curriculum with fidelity. Is it 45 minutes? 60 minutes?. What about the remaining 1 hour and 15 minutes of ELA time?” IF they say “Well, he has writing goals?” You would respond: “Well, those goals can be implemented in a general education setting in science and social studies and during the rotations in ELA”. If they say “Well, he needs direct instruction”, look at their proposed goals. If the goal is to write one sentence, what kind of “direct instruction” that is “special” is going to be provided? ASK THAT QUESTION! It’s a goal to write ONE OR TWO SENTENCES! The reality is that they don’t provide anything special – they are just providing accommodations: prompts, visuals, word cards, sentence frames. If such is needed, an aide can provide the prompts and the accommodations in a general education setting. An included student can write one sentence on the same subject that general education students are writing about in writer’s workshop. For spelling and vocabulary, an included student can be assigned fewer words, or sight/CVC words or we can provide pictures to help support comprehension. For math, if you ask the general education teacher what her math instruction looks like, she will FIRST do a lesson, then ask the kids to participate by coming up to the board/docucam and solving exemplar problems and then they do a worksheet at their table. Assuming that the student needs to be removed, for how long? Half of the time? He or she can go to resource and get a math “lesson” with others at his level but then take his or her RESOURCE worksheet (which would be adapted to his instructional level) back to gen ed and do it at a table with non-disabled peers. They may be doing an activity like dice math to work on their multiplication facts; if Johnny’s number sense goal is counting to 10 or adding within 10, he can add the dots instead and work on his math goals at his level! And of course, he can also work on his social emotional goals and speech goals with non-disabled peers by taking turns, telling a peer “Good job”, or asking them a question about what they are eating for lunch today.
If you break down the day based on the general education schedule, you can see how you can limit removal to maybe 60-75 minutes a day for reading and math instruction. Math can readily be differentiated and taught in the general education setting but even if you want to agree to some segregation, the student can join the class for the worksheet or math activity time on 4/5 days (the last day could be used for speech).
The point is that Districts often work backwards – dictating by fiat how many minutes Johnny needs for each goal instead of looking at the general education schedule and asking “what is the least amount of time” that the student “needs” to be “removed” to make progress on his or her goals. Many, many goals can be worked on throughout the day in a general education setting. Some general education teachers are not well trained and claim they don’t know how to support such students but the reality is that the instruction is no different – whatever “scaffolding” is needed, or supports and accommodations can and should be provided through the special education staff “pushed into” the general education classroom (either to provide direct instruction or consulting with the gen ed teacher who claims not to know what to do) and with the support of a highly trained instructional assistant.
And that leads to the final argument that is often heard at IEP meetings – “an aide is not a teacher” – and thus Johnny needs to be removed to a special education setting to get “special education” – as if a teacher is going to be providing that to him wherever they intend he go for his segregated educational opportunity. But the primary instructor in many special education classrooms, and specifically SDC classrooms, is an aide. The special education teacher is often doing paperwork, IEPs, or attending meetings. If the teacher is in the classroom, he or she is splitting the time with multiple groups with aides instructing the other groups in the class. For example, in many special education classrooms, each hour will be broken into three instructional segments of 15 minutes each. At least two of those rotations, the student is with an aide. Each rotation is punctuated with a 5 minute “break” so, in reality, at best, the student is getting 15 minutes of a “teacher” out of that hour in an SDC class. Researchers have studied this and in one study, across 5 high schools, found that the assigned special education teacher was the primary instructor in only 21% of observations. See, Kurth, J. et. al. “Ecobehavioral Characteristics of Self-Contained High School Classrooms for Students with Severe Cognitive Disability.” Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities 2016, Vol 41 (4) 227-243. If you have ever been provided the opportunity to observe in an SDC class for an hour, you will see the role played by paraprofessionals. And, any time the teacher has an IEP meeting, or needs to prepare for an IEP meeting, her “rotation” is given to another aide as she had to be the face of special ed and be somewhere else or be doing her paperwork.
A well-trained aide can provide the same kind of support that is provided in an SDC class to a student in a general education classroom. And, the special education professional supporting the student in the inclusive setting can provide the supports, accommodations, modifications, adapted curriculum, visuals, sentence frames - whatever it is that the student may need, and train the aide how to use them. Inclusion does benefit from a collaborative effort of both special education professionals and general education teachers but where the student receives the instruction rarely is a factor in the amount of progress that the student can make. There are exceptions to that, of course, but considering the research and legal basis supporting inclusive placements, general education classrooms should be the default until PROVEN to not be capable of providing the student with a venue to implement his or her challenging goals and make progress that is meaningful for the student in light of his or her disability.
3. Johnny bites, he kicks, he screams… he can’t be included in a general education setting.
Under the legal standards that courts use in the 9th circuit to evaluate the LRE for a student, behavior is most certainly a factor. But bad behavior does not necessarily mean that the student should be removed from the general education setting. First, it must be realized that if a student is having “bad” behavior that is disruptive to his or her peers, it would be just as unfair to place that student with disabled students as non-disabled students. The issue with behavior is the “why” – why is this student behaving the way he is behaving. The default position raised by those who seek to segregate students is that “the classroom is too overwhelming for Johnny” or “he simply is unable to access the instruction so is misbehaving”.
All of those are assumptions and it is imperative to challenge the assumptions and look for data to support them. I have had many district professionals tell me that the general education setting is too distracting for a student. I have done side by side observations of the student in a general education setting and in a special education setting and I have yet to see a student whose FOCUS and ATTENTION was BETTER in an SDC class. Generally, if a student has a problem with his attention and focus, it is seen in both settings. But I have had many students whose behavior was worse in the SDC class because there were many other students with “bad” behavior. In a general education setting, the students without behavior provide good role models for a student with behavioral challenges. The point here is that without data, it is inappropriate to assume that it is the environment that is causing or contributing to the behavior or lack of attention.
When a student is engaging in behavior, it is critical to determine its function. Is the student engaging in behavior when a demand is made upon him? Is the behavior designed to escape that demand? Is the student engaging in behavior to gain attention from the teacher/aide? Is the need for that attention to “stop” the instruction that is ongoing to otherwise “escape” from it? Is the student engaging in behavior because he has nothing to do to keep him engaged with the instruction? Are there adequate and robust adapted materials to allow the student to be engaged? It is key to test the hypothesis for the function of the behavior and not just make assumptions.
I worked with a student whose district abolished all special education placements and put all students in a general education setting, with shared classroom-aide support. Unfortunately, neither the aides or teachers were trained on inclusive practices and the general education teachers who were now tasked with the instruction had no collaborative support for any adaptions, modifications, etc. The student quickly started to engage in behavior and make noise. The general education teacher immediately requested the aide to remove the student. The aide complied and took the student to a “resource room” type of setting and handed her a stuffed animal. Each day, when the student started out in the general education setting, her behavior started quickly and was more impressive. And each day, the aide removed her. They had no idea they were negatively reinforcing her behavior. She had quickly learned that if she screamed, and screamed loudly, she would get to go someplace else and play with stuffed animals. So, claiming that this student could not be educated in the LRE because of behavior was NOT something that was established. What was established was that inclusion without training and supports, and specifically integrated behavior support, will never work.
So, just because a student has behavior, doesn’t mean that they need an SDC class or worse, a school for students with behavior. Rather, the first step is a behavior assessment (either a functional behavioral assessment or a functional analysis assessment) conducted by a BCBA who understands the ins and outs of function and reactive strategies. Then implementation of a comprehensive behavior intervention plan, guided by data collection is needed to truly ascertain whether behavior is an impediment to inclusion. While there are kids whose behavior is such that a more restrictive setting is needed, just because a student has behavior does not mean that general education placements are automatically off limits in the LRE analysis.
4. How meaningful is plate techtonics/genetics/poetry for Johnny?
I had a program manager ask this question at a middle school transition meeting. The student was fully included in 5th grade but this program manager clearly believed the student should be in a life skills type of SDC class for middle school where he could learn functional skills – e.g. counting, money, reading sight words, etc. So, after explaining the full 6th grade curriculum to the team, including plate tectonics (which was part of the 6th grade science standards), she asked: “How meaningful is plate tectonics for Student?” And, without missing a beat, I responded: “Well, how meaningful was plate tectonics for you?” She was visibly offended by the question (and the smart alek tone that I was using to ask it.) I continued: “I can see that you are offended but I am being serious. I studied plate tectonics in 6th grade as I suspect that you did. I am approaching my 60’s and, until today, I have never once used the word “plate tectonics” and most people think I am pretty successful. So, the state mandated that I study something that was worthless to me and I firmly believe that anything the state deems important for non-disabled students is equally as important for students with disabilities including the worthless subject of plate tectonics. And, candidly, to even suggest that a worthless subject like plate tectonics was ONLY available to non-disabled students and not to those with intellectual disabilities would sound like discrimination to me”.
The program manager was not a happy camper but I was making a point. It isn’t the subject that is being taught but the opportunity to participate in the general curriculum. We would be accessing this student’s goals through this curriculum – goals that we deemed important for him. So, for example, he had goals to decode words at his instructional level. It turns out that there are words relating to plate tectonics that he could decode. This student could decode; his instructional level was at the vowel blend level. There were vocabulary words related to content that were perfect for instruction, like the word “fault” and “earth” (just as examples). He had a goal to write 1-2 sentences describing a picture. He could write a sentence about the earth’s core, or how an earthquake happens. All his reading, writing and comprehension goals could just as easily be implemented in the 6th grade science class (with supplementary aides and supports) as in the SDC class. And they were. When I train today, I use a video of this student giving his presentation on plate tectonics. He created a PowerPoint presentation – it had about 7 slides. Each slide had a picture and he wrote two sentences about each picture. Each slide contained facts that he had learned about how earthquakes occurred. He learned vocabulary, worked on spelling, decoded words, wrote sentences and worked with his group on labs and projects and his “output” was this PowerPoint presentation (implementing the same listening and speaking standards for all 6th graders but at his readability level). He got a huge round of applause and was so proud of himself. It was just amazing.
The point of this is that the art of universal design for learning is to include students in the same curriculum and classes as non-disabled students while also meeting their individual needs. So, it might not be about learning the nuance of plate tectonics that benefits a fully included student. The kids that I have placed in 6th grade general education science have learned a lot about earthquakes and other earth science standards but they were doing so while also working on their individual goals for decoding, reading comprehension, written expression, social -emotional development, pragmatics, turn taking, and expressive language.
When a team/parent might want to consider a special education setting?
I am not someone who believes that every student should be educated 100% of the time in the general education setting. Even when inclusion is possible or legally supportable, there are reasons why parents and students may consider a special education setting to be the appropriate setting for some or even all the school day. I work with students who are educated in all placements along the continuum, from full time inclusion in general education to residential placements. So, the “I” in IEP really does mean individualized but without predetermination or bias.
Consider a high school student who is “fully included” in general education classes but still needs speech or counseling services. Many students prefer to have one period of “study skills” because they benefit from a break in the day. While some schools have “general education study skills”, others do not and candidly, this is not anything that I have chosen to fight. If the student benefits from a study skills period, it can be in a special education setting. Their services can be done during that period without disrupting general education content. That time can also be used for extended time accommodations if the student needs more time on testing. My own son would take his tests in general education settings and write the words “more time” at the top. The teacher would then deliver the test to the study skills teacher so my son could complete it when it was his study skills time.
That being said, a student should not have to take study skills in order to get his or her services if there are good reasons not to. So, for a college bound student who wants to take as many AP classes as he or she can and needs a foreign language, they will use their “elective” time for college advancement and don’t want to waste one of those periods on a Study Skills class and can’t miss any core content for “pull out” speech. While some speech can be pushed in, there are those students who do not want to be seen getting their services. My son was one of those. He would have been horrified to see his speech therapist in a general education classroom, working with him or others in a small group. He was petrified of being “outed” as a student who had needs. There are some decisions that suggest that extended day services should be required if necessary for the individual needs of the student. See, e.g. Parents v. Alhambra Unified School District, OAH Case No. 2010050866 (OAH CA) October 21, 2010 (student with many absences due to medical problems needs to be in class when physically on campus so after school speech services required); Letter to Irby, 55 IDELR 231 (OSEP 2000)( District cannot force student to use PE time for special ed services and must consider extended day or extended school year to get needed services). I made that argument for my son who always got his speech after school. When the District argued that staff left at 3:00, I suggested that they ask the SLP if she would start later two days a week and stay until 3:30. She was more than happy to accommodate and the District was hard pressed to argue that my son HAD to use some of his “in school” time for speech when he had significant needs for 100% of his “in school” time for his school classes!
Another example of when a special education classroom may be appropriate is when the student needs different curriculum and a quiet environment to implement it. This is often seen for students with dyslexia who benefit from an intervention curriculum such as an Orton Gillingham based curriculum (like Lindamood Bell’s Lips or Visualization and Verbalization). For some students, the benefit of pull out OG reading intervention instruction outweighs the detriment of missing a small amount of general education reading instruction time. Can OG reading instruction be done in a general education classroom? Sure – and there are districts that have adopted Lindamood Bell or Wilson’s Fundations for their elementary school general education curriculum. But, if the district has adopted another curriculum in which the student with dyslexia has not benefitted, and the team agrees that the student should be exposed to an OG curriculum, there is a lot of research that suggests that intensive, 1:1 instruction with an OG curriculum, implemented with fidelity is very beneficial. So, some students would benefit from some pull out time to do that.
The point here is that each student’s needs should be looked at such that an individualized program can be created. But placement must be considered in light of available supplementary aides and supports. It is not an excuse that Johnny needs modified curriculum or learns at a much lower level. It should not be an excuse that Mary has poor eye contact or low verbal skills. Whatever individual goals are needed for each student, the first question always should be “Can this goal be worked on at any time of the day in a general education setting with supplementary aides and services”. While it might be easier for a district to put all IEP kids with such individualized goals in one classroom, that is not what research suggests will result in the best outcomes and such a process is inconsistent with the law.