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The District 65 School Board adopted a full inclusion model in 2009. As time went on, though, in recognition that the District was required to provide a continuum of services and options to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities, the District began to offer more options in specialized settings.
On Nov. 30, 2009, after extensive study, the District 65 School Board unanimously approved an “Inclusion Plan,” under which students with a disability were integrated into the regular classroom. The plan contained five guiding principles, ten goals and numerous strategies.
The inclusion model was implemented at pre-K and kindergarten levels in the 2009-10 school year and then expanded to first grade for the next school, then to second grade, etc. At some point, the District stopped the phase-in approach and implemented the inclusion model in all grade levels.
Initially, there were two full-time teachers in each inclusion classroom, one general education teacher and one special education teacher. As time went on, it was not fiscally possible to have two teachers in each inclusion classroom, and the special education teachers began to devote their time to two or more classrooms. Several articles published in the RoundTable that provide information about the implementation of the inclusion program and available here and here.
During the shift to an inclusion model, some parents of children with significant disabilities thought the pendulum swung too far, and that the District was pushing to place all students with a disability into a general education classroom, rather than maintaining a continuum of services and placing students with significant disabilities in a setting that best met their needs. An article published in the RoundTable that reported on these concerns is available here.
Parents of students at Park School strongly opposed the closing of the school and shifting students at that school to the District’s other schools. After many public hearings on this issue, the District decided to keep Park School open.
On June 25, 2013, United States District Court Judge Thomas M. Durkin affirmed a hearing officer’s ruling that School District 65 violated the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in developing an Individual Education Program (IEP) for a student for the 2011-12 school year. The Court, in a 53-page opinion, found there was substantial evidence to support a hearing officer’s finding that District 65’s decision to place a student in a general education classroom was “predetermined” and that it was guided, at least in part, by the District’s “Inclusion Policy” which on its face, the Court said, “takes mainstreaming a step too far.”
Judge Durkin said, “the IDEA requires that school districts educate disabled children in the ‘least restrictive environment.’” Thus, “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are not disabled.” He said, though, “when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” then mainstreaming is not appropriate. To accommodate children with more severe disabilities, “school districts are ultimately required to ‘ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services.’” These include special classes and special schools.
A RoundTable article reporting on the decision is available here.
At the April 28, 2014, Joyce Bartz, Director of Special Services for District 65, and a panel of supervisors in the special services department presented a proposal at a District 65 School Board meeting to increase the options for students who had significant needs and disabilities, and increase the continuum of services that were available.
Ms. Bartz said, “I feel like we have been wildly successful in our inclusion effort. Really through the work of the assistant superintendents, the principals and the special education and general education staff we have implemented really tight inclusion programming that has taken a tremendous amount of work and commitment on the staff’s part to make this happen. We have been commended by Project Choices, which is the technical assistance branch of the Illinois State Board of Education for inclusion,” she said.
In explaining the need to increase service options, Ms. Bartz said, “We see there’s an increase in the mental health issues that we see with our students. We’ve certainly seen an increase in the hospitalizations of our kids in the last two years. We see more students on the autism spectrum, and … an increase in the number of homeless students. Some of these students are very fragile people.
“What we have come to see,” Ms. Bartz continued, “is that we have to provide additional supports to children who might need a smaller setting or might need more attention in programming.” She proposed adding five special education classrooms.
An article reporting on the proposal is available here.