Editorial: A Closer Look at Special Education


Going into this story originally, I looked at all the “progressive” changes the ISD has made to better accommodate Special-Education students—and found myself disappointed. In the need for such change, the ISD limits themselves with things that don’t actually achieve their goals.

Roughly two months ago, after revisiting the ISD’s elementary school curriculum, I noticed some changes to the structure that many had come to know and love as students. One of my favorite parts of the curriculum was how full each classroom was. In the classroom, no student was separated from another: and this was true for a particular group of students. 

Special-Education students are those with IEPS (Individualized Education Programs), 504s, and other forms of educational tools used to keep students on track. Special plans, though, do not mean students who are a part of the Special-Education program (Sp-Ed) are isolated from a “typical classroom.” Instead, Sp-Ed students are invited into the classroom to improve social skills and learn on track with other students on the same grade level. But, as I looked, I couldn’t seem to find information on the program anywhere

It wasn’t until I sat down on the phone with the Director of Special Services, Sherry Potter, who denied my initial suspicions with the termination of the program: “[All elementary school] buildings are really good at trying to make sure there’s some inclusion for the students in those programs… but when they get to middle school and high school, it’s harder because they are often too far behind to benefit and then the social part is much harder because the social gap has gotten wider.”  Potter adds, “We call it ‘Mainstreaming,’ where they’re able to go to their grade level classroom for a part of their time. So then when they get to high school, a lot of time they’re being exposed to the high school curriculum whether it be in a special-ed classroom or they are in co-taught classrooms.” It’s assuring to know that this program has not been forgotten by the ISD, but it is problematic that, at the same time, we’re doing nothing to fix a glaring issue. 

Special Education students falling so far behind at the middle and high school level is proof of something in the program not working as it should. Throughout my interview with Potter, she answered each question by defining the goals of the program, and not addressing the real effects the program has on real students. With the disappearance of the program, I wanted to find out first hand what could have possibly happened. 

I talked to some of the Special Education students myself to see what they really thought of the program as they are experiencing it first hand. Freshman Victoria Thompson says, “Yeah I like high school… I really like my seventh hour. It’s math.” She continues to talk about their field trips: one of the collective favorites being the indoor swimming pool. Josh Polson, another student in the program, says: “Yeah I like high school—because of the classes. Sometimes we do fun things in health class. We also go to Costco and the swimming pool.” Each student I talked to finds pleasure in learning. As each of them told me their favorite class, I understood less and less why many of these students were unable to move on past the program at an elementary level. 

I am not with these students everyday, but from such a simple conversation with each of them, I found that they are more than capable of finding themselves in a co-taught classroom. 

Understandably, many of these students are in Sp-Ed classrooms for behavioral struggles, though why should that stop them from learning at their own pace and grade level? When a student in the program is forced to be held back from success, it stunts their educational and social growth, just as it would with any other student. So why is it that many of these students are unable to find themselves in co-taught classrooms? Potter explains it this way, “If they have a math disability, a lot of the times they just go down in grade level to teach it. Because math, I guess, is so structured. They’re structured that it’s usually where a student’s disability is probably at.” Though, even in just a half-day’s time in the program, I came to understand that these students are much more than what they are defined as by the curriculum. They’re intelligent and passionate students and they should not have those qualities dismissed simply because of their behavioral struggles or extra support. 

The program has established itself off of hypotheticals and “What If” students, not making an effort to understand the real needs of the program’s real students.

Categories: Opinion

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