According to sources, that will remain unnamed, the Toledo Public School (TPS), beginning this school year, is instituting total inclusion of children with special needs, presumably dispensing with special education classes. There has been no formal announcement of this intention, so it is not yet confirmed. However, according to the same unnamed sources, parents of children that receive special education service, as well as parents of typical children, have not been informed of this decision, if indeed such a decision has been made; at least, the parents of children in the urban, inner-city neighborhoods of Toledo seem to not know that their children receiving special education services will be thrust full-time into classes with typical children where the support and services they need may not be provided.
Lucas County closed Larc Lane, a school for children with special needs, in 1999, ending a history of exemplary service for the students attending this school that provided physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, on-site nurses and behavior support specialists, as well as one-on-one staff supervision for severe behaviors. Some of the students that were higher functioning attended classes in public and parochial schools where classrooms were located located in a basement or some distance away from the other classrooms in the school. This "inclusion" was really nothing more than "exclusion" within a public or private school setting and the same ancillary services listed above were provided with various therapists and specialist visiting these "included" classrooms on a regular bases or as needed according to the students' individual needs. However, these were the higher functioning students. Those that had severe disabilities requiring more staff and support were at Larc Lane with more staff and onsite therapists.
In one parochial school, which won't be named, some of the students in the special education classes worked in the cafeteria and were ridiculed by some of the typical students as they passed through the lunch line. Because these children were aware of being ridiculed, their self-esteem and confidence were affected, however, they and their IEP (Individual Education Plan) team agreed that they should remain in these schools.I n contrast, when Larc Lane closed, there were a number of parents that did not want their children in situations where they would be treated with disdain, teased, and perhaps even bullied. However, inclusion is the current educational mandate for children with special needs. Primarily, some believe, to pump up enrollment in public schools that are losing more and more students to private and charter schools. However, public schoolteachers who don't always get the support they need when children with special needs are placed in their classrooms and whose jobs may be on the line if children don't pass standardized tests may have mixed or even negative feelings about adding children to their roles that may need extra support for toileting, feeding, and basic self-help skills like putting on and taking off a coat, tying a shoe, or getting a drink of water.
Add to these needs, specialized learning strategies that many children with special needs require and dispensing medication that can include everything from pills and capsules to a feeding tube; adaptive equipment such as helmets, walkers, and wheelchairs, and behavioral issues like SIB (self-injurious behavior), clothes-tearing, and worse; and socially unacceptable behavior such as drooling, spitting, self-induced vomiting, etc. with only a teacher and an assistant or aide in the room where every child's needs are expected to be met and preparation for every test is also expected, and you have a recipe for losing many qualified and dedicated teachers and unraveling the rest.
TPS has been gradually integrating students in learning disabled class into regular classes, according to some individual cases that have been reviewed. However, before children with the types of needs listed above are "included" in regular classrooms, there are some steps that need to be taken. First, parents should be part of the process. Parents of children with special needs are their children's strongest advocates. They should have some input into creating inclusive educational environments for their children. Why was this step, according to the aforementioned unnamed sources, not taken with inner city parents in Toledo?
Secondly, teachers who have not worked with children with special needs can make inclusion work for all children if they believe that every child can learn and are not constrained by "teaching to the middle," but are committed to providing for each child's individual needs. Has TPS provided professional development for its teachers to ensure that inclusion will work and that teachers attitudes which will affect student attitudes are positive toward the change? Finally, there has to be an administrative commitment to provide special education services for children who require these services and have formerly received them. The current trend that states "special education is not a place, but a service" includes the word service for a reason. As the list of kinds of issues that come with children with special needs suggests, the need for supports from ancillary staff is critical to each child's success in school.
TPS typically does not have a nurse, speech therapist, OT or COTA, or a PT, or a behavior support specialist in each school that is on site at all times. How will TPS address the needs of children with severe disabilities that may need some of the services provided by these therapists once the children are widely dispersed in various classrooms and schools? Provided the information provided by the sources is accurate (and considering the sources that provided this information are directly connected to parents in the inner city, it most likely is), if the above steps have not been taken - and it appears that the first step has not, at least not with inner-city parents - the total inclusion of children with special needs may give a school system that already has a low academic rating yet another failure. And this school system has had far too many in recent years.