Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Illusion of Inclusion

Esbee at the Life in Forsyth blog sent me this link, and asked what I thought about it. The story is about parents of children with autism who decided to start a charter autism school because they did not feel the public schools were meeting their childrens' needs, especially as their children entered their teens. Like a lot of parents, in fact probably most parents, of children with disabilities, the school time clock seems to move in double speed. Before we know it, our children are in high school and fears for their futures loom. Even if parents begin fighting school battles early in their child's educational journey, those battles take a long time to resolve. Valuable years can easily be lost - and skills fall further and further behind. But is the answer to pull our children with disabilities out of public school and start a new school which serves just one disability?

The story Esbee sent me was from Minneapolis, but the story is not unique. I believe in communities across the country, parents continue to struggle with a similar decision. Several years ago in my city, parents did the same thing the parents in Minneapolis are trying to do. Faison School was established to serve children with autism, children whose parents believed the public school system had failed them. There is now a waiting list for students to attend Faison, and several of the parents who have children at this school feel the change made a successful difference in their child's life. My concern is that such schools promote segregation, and I'm not sure that segregation is a good thing for our children with disabilities.

My children go to the same shops and stores that everyone else does. They go to the same church. They go to the same YMCA and the same childcare facility. They go on the same vacations and to the same restaurants as the rest of my family. They live in the same house and check books out of the same library. So what is so unique about schools that those same children must be segregrated from their peers? Yes, they need to be educated in different ways sometimes, but those different educational techniques do not, in my opinion, require them to be physcially kept apart from others.

The parents in the article that Esbee sent me spoke of the "illusion of inclusion", and I agree with them that inclusion has failed in most places. School districts say it is because of low funding, but to me it seems low commitment to the concept is the bigger problem. Also, I'm not sure that our university teacher preparation programs do a good enough job of showing that inclusion can work and instructing new teachers how to make it work.

With that said, I do understand why the parents in Minneapolis and other cities across the county are looking outside their public school systems for a better choice for their children. As parents, we always strive to do what is in the best interest of our children - especially looking to their future. And, if a school existed in my area that specialized in children with deafblindness, I probably would look into it as an option for Ashley.

I do believe, however, that as parents we must consider the whole of our childrens' futures, not just their educational needs. While those needs are extremely important, so too is the ability to live and function in a society that is composed of many different people and places. If we want our children to be fully included as adults, we must strive to have them fully included as children. Segregation in any form frightens me...


Esbee said...

We have a private, incredibly expensive school for children with autism here.


I think when you are talking about different classrooms, different furniture, different physical details of a school, different teaching methods, a specialized school can be a huge asset. That's how I see it - as specialized, not segregated.

That said, I do think the parents in Minneapolis are to be commended for creating a public school, so that children from all tax brackets can attend. I know a number of families here who would love their children to go the school here, but who simply cannot afford it. (Those who can, however, sing its praises effusively.)

Our own local parents v. school board coverage, complete with comments at the end from both sides:

Part 1

Part 2

My oldest is moderately hearing impaired. So far his educational needs are being well met in a "regular" classroom, but should his hearing loss progress (anticipated), I am not ruling out a specialized setting.

Ashley's Mom said...

I agree that the parents should be commended for ALL children. Unfortunately, the school in my city is so expensive, few can afford it. Some parents have fought the school district to have them pay but again, money is required for legal battles.

It's a hard decision for any parent. Like I said, if there was a good school nearby that Ashley could attend, one which could provide for her full educational needs, I would probably send her. My battles with my school district center primarily on communication - not enough sign language support and not enough knowledge about deafblindness in general. If I could find that expertise without having to send Ashley away to school, more than likely I would jump at the chance.

I just think the concept of 'specialization' needs to be closely watched so it doesn't become 'segregation'.

Thanks for the link, and the opportunity to comment!

Esbee said...

I think focus is the issue. So long as placements, treatments, communication systems are being discussed with what is best for MY CHILD as the focus, I consider alternative placements "specialized".

If the focus skews to what is best for THE OTHER CHILDREN or THE SCHOOL SYSTEM...