On Nov. 16, School District 65 administrators, together with Cassandra Cole, Director of the Center on Education and Lifelong Learning at Indiana University, presented an “Inclusion Plan” to members of the School Board, under which students with a disability will be integrated into the regular classroom.

At the beginning of this school year, the District began implementing an inclusion model at the pre-k and kindergarten levels, with a plan to expand from the early grades to upper grade levels in ensuing years, said Superintendent Hardy Murphy in a memo to the Board. The District also implemented an inclusion model this year at all grade levels at Orrington School and for bilingual students at Washington School.

To move forward, Dr. Murphy told School Board members, “We felt we needed a broader inclusion plan in writing, and we worked with Dr. Cole on that.”

Dr. Cole said, “The primary purpose of this plan was to create a roadmap, to move the District toward shared meaning, toward shared understanding and a shared focus for the District as it began implementation of inclusive education.”

She said the plan was developed with input from building principals, District supervisors and representative groups of parents and teachers. She said the plan was “fluid” and “it’s not set in stone.”

Principles and Goals

Margie Lenoir-Davis, Interim Director of Special Services Education for the District, outlined five guiding principles, ten goals and numerous strategies of the plan. One of the stated goals is “Students with disabilities will be educated in integrated, age-appropriate environments that fully support their social, emotional, physical and academic needs.”

Strategies to implement this goal include “assign[ing] all students with disabilities to a general education classroom, … develop[ing] Individual Education Plans to support inclusive practices, … and provid[ing] appropriate modifications and accomodations for all students.”

The plan contains numerous other goals and strategies, including partnering with families, educating the community about inclusion, maintaining stability of the placement of children, providing supports in the general education classroom, providing professional development and promoting social inclusion in the schools.

Board member Andy Pigozzi asked if the District would continue to use self-contained classrooms for students with disabilities.

Ms. Lenoir-Davis responded that rather than always thinking in terms of placing a child in a structured instructional [self-contained] classroom, the District would realign its services and resources to support students in a general education classroom. “That is not to say that will happen tomorrow,” she said. “But we would like to consider taking the service to the students in a more effective manner so they can get closer and closer to the general education environment.”

“In any given classroom, the hope is that, as Margie said, the services go to the child, and the hope is that the child is in an environment that’s inclusive in a general education classroom.” Dr. Cole said. “But, in reality, the ebb and flow of that classroom might mean that students, not just students with disabilities, but other students too, may get small group instruction at any time during the day.”

 “The difference I think between a self-contained classroom that kids go to versus the kind of vision we have for this District is that the context of how the child receives services is in the ebb and flow of the natural environment, i.e. the general education classroom,” she said.

Dr. Murphy said, “It’s important to evidence that in fact this isn’t just an ideal. In fact it is a reality in some places.” Dr. Cole confirmed, “Absolutely.”

Students with Emotional Disabilities

Dr. Murphy said he knew there were some concerns that the District would place students who need therapeutic services in the general education classroom without necessary supports. He added, though, that students needing such services would not be placed in the general education classroom unless four things occurred: there was additional teacher training; there was an increase in classroom supports, through a reallocation of resources or the addition of resources; social workers and psychologists were provided training on how to work with students who are rather fragile as far as emotional conditions are concerned; and there are adequate school based supports. 

“It’s important that we help people understand that their apprehensions are our concerns,” Dr. Murphy continued, “so that as we move forward people don’t feel like what this means is we’re going to include children in classrooms, and that their presence there – because they don’t have adequate support – can actually have a negative impact upon the classroom experience for all of the other students in the classroom.”

Mr. Robey said the pilot at Orrington School this year – where students who had previously been assigned to self-contained cross-categorical classrooms, were assigned to regular classrooms with a lot of resources – has been “very successful. “What we did this year with students at Orrington was to move them out into regular classrooms with the supports they needed,” he said. The District did not add additional staff at Orrington to do this, but reallocated staff previously devoted to the self-contained classroom to provide supports in the regular classroom, he added. 

Dr. Cole said District 65 was “resource rich,” and “it’s really about reallocation of resources and thinking differently about that. The experience is not that it necessarily costs a lot more.”

Dr. Cole told Board members, “You may make a decision that there are some schools that have cluster programs for high resource kids. In other words, if you have students with extensive needs – that need wrap-around services – it’s possible, I’m not saying this is the decision of the District, but one way to think about that in terms of resources, is that you put those [students] in a particular building or school or cluster site.”

Park School

One strategy in the plan is to “review inclusion for Park School and include Park students in the implementation timeline.” Park School focuses on the needs of students who have learning and/or physical challenges.

Dr. Murphy said addressing the needs of students at Park School under the Inclusion Plan was a “big issue.” The District would “try to increase the opportunities of students at Park School to be included in this District, and it should be a significant increase in the next few years,” he said.

Dr. Cole said “Park School under the leadership of Ms. Grossman has done some incredible things.” She added, though, “I believe that the students at Park School can and should be included and integrated in your buildings with their age-appropriate peers. It’s based a lot on research; it’s based on my own experiences in seeing it work around the country.”

She said the District should draw on the leadership of Ms. Grossman in moving ahead on this part of the initiative.

Going forward

Dr. Cole said the Inclusion Plan would be disseminated and discussed with principals, parent groups and teachers. By the end of the semester, the plan will include timelines for rolling out the implementation of the inclusion model for the 2010-11 school year, including a plan for professional development. A District-leadership team, composed of teachers, parents and administrators will be created by July 2010; that team will review implementation of the inclusion plan, she said. 

Cari Levin, founding director of Citizens for Appropriate Special Education (CASE) and a member of the inclusion planning team, told the RoundTable she thought the process of developing an inclusion plan was a good one, but that it should have occurred a year ago, before implementing inclusion at the pre-k and kindergarten levels.

She said that the ideas generated through the process of developing the plan were valuable and on target. Going forward she said, “There needs to be a culture shift in the minds of staff and the school communities,” and that the District needs to address, “How to support typically developing kids in making the social shift they need to make to embrace students with disabilities.” 

In responding to a suggestion to reorganize the strategies made by parent Richard Rykhus, Dr. Murphy said the statement of strategies may be refined when the timelines are set.

 Board president Keith Terry said the Board’s Finance Committee will consider the financial implications of the Inclusion Plan along with other budgetary issues being considered by that committee.

DEC President⁳ Comments

At the RoundTable’s invitation, the following comments were submitted by Jean Luft, president of the District Educators Council, the teachers union, regarding inclusion. Her comments are below:

“The teachers are always open to working with the administration in developing a thoughtful, well-planned system to better deliver services to students with special needs. Last June teachers and parents voiced their objections and concerns when the administration chose to rush into inclusion with little time to plan and prepare.

“Including students with special needs into the regular education classroom is not a new concept for teachers. In the past it was implemented with an appropriate plan in place developed by the school staff and parents. DEC is asking that any plan have a continuum of services that allows students to be viewed as individuals. Each child needs to be placed in an appropriate setting that can ensure the intensity of support that is indicated by the child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Placement decisions are best made by the professionals that work with the students each day and the students’ parents. These decisions should never be made by a “one size fits all” plan. 

“One area that is of great concern to teachers is adequate staffing and support.  Teachers and support staff need to have manageable workloads and time for collaboration, planning and consultation so every child in District 65 has access to a high quality education. DEC is also requesting professional development that is differentiated and offers a wide variety of training options for teachers and staff.

“Training, along with visiting and consulting with other school districts that have a continuum of options for the delivery of special services, is needed before any plan can be successfully developed and implemented.”