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District Says It is Still Dedicated to Elementary Inclusion Instruction

Dr. Pat Barker, Supervisor of Special Education, said that the district was not abandoning two-teacher inclusion classrooms for elementary schools, but was adding a new reading pull-out service.

The use of co-teaching inclusion — a strategy expanded in the South Orange-Maplewood School District three years years ago that pairs two teachers in one classroom shared by general and special education students — is not being abandoned, say district staff.

Some parents are still worried that the number of co-taught inclusion classrooms is being seriously reduced while a new reading pull-out program is introduced.

At a special meeting on April 16 at the district offices, Dr. Pat Barker, Director of Special Services for the South Orange-Maplewood School District, addressed concerns about the continuation of the two-teacher inclusion model and a new focus on pull-out reading support for children in kindergarten through second grade (Dr. Barker said that grades 3-5 were not being affected).

Dr. Barker quickly stressed to the crowded room of concerned parents that no special education teachers were being let go in the elementary schools and that the district had instituted no cost-cutting measures in special education.

However, she did note that, because of stresses on the budget, the district did pay an outside consulting firm — the — "to look at how special education operated in classrooms." DMC did a K-12 review of special education.

Barker said she was pleased with the report: "I thought they got a pretty good sense of the district." However, she was clear to say that the recommendations of the Council were theirs and not the district's. "It doesn't necessarily mean we are doing these things."

The district posted the report on its website in an effort at tranparency said Barker but instead it "started a firestorm."

Barker went on to explain that the district was still committed to two-teacher inclusion classrooms but that the elementary principals felt that that model did not necessarily work for all children since 90% of all K-3 special education referrals where for struggling readers.

Barker said that the district was looking at a reduction in the need for two-teacher inclusion classroom for K-2 next year due to a shift in the number of special education classified students — not a change in policy. Barker said that the district would use extra special education staff to institute a new pull-out reading program.

She said that this was "not a reduction in services" but actually "an increase."

Parents in the meeting were confused as to how this model would work and were concerned about what would happen in two-teacher classrooms when the special education teacher left the class for the reading pull-outs. Barker seemed to offer kindergarten morning meeting as a time when the special education teacher was not needed in the classroom. At another point in the meeting she seemed to indicate that there would be extra teachers and no need to pull them from classrooms.

Later, a parent reports, Barker explained that there will be co-taught classes and single teacher classes. There will not be co-teachers for part of the day. Patc reached out to Dr. Barker who provided this further clarification in an email on April 17:

There will be (as there always has been) different configurations of classes depending on the needs of the students. For example, a student who only needs a reading intervention (K-2) and is classified may be in a single teacher classroom. That student (depending on grade) may be pulled from “circle Time” in K or or science or social studies, or other non-core times like library, etc. for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week to receive a targeted reading intervention. His/her needs are being met , we believe, in a more appropriate manner than in a 2-teacher classroom where there is not a targeted reading intervention. In the past this student might have had a special education teacher in the classroom but was not receiving the targeted interventions needed. This student can be successful in the classroom without a special education teacher but needs more intensive interventions than are offered in a classroom.

Some students may need a targeted reading intervention PLUS support during language Arts times and Mathematics. That student would be pulled for targeted reading as the student above and have a second teacher during the critical times of Language Arts and Mathematics. He/she would need the special education teacher to be successful in the general education classroom during those core academic times.

Other students may need support during Language Arts and/or Math and will have the special education available during those times or possibly all day. That is the service they would need to be successful in a general education classroom.

 

Regarding the reading pull-outs, Barker said that they would be comprised of not more than 3 students and would take place for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. She said that students would be transitioned out when they met their goals. "If they can achieve their reading goals, they can be de-classified" and/or "moved back into the class with less supports."

As noted in her email, Barker said that students would still be given the educational supports they needed due to their individual needs.

"Our long-term strategy," said Barker said at the April 16 meeting, "is fewer students in special education, not less services."

Barker said that there are no program changes planned for grades 3-5. The number of special education students in those grades will determine the number of teachers.

Some parents in the meeting were noticeably agitated and skeptical. "We drank the Kool-aid three years ago," said one parent about the initial push for full inclusion. "You convinced us." The parent wanted to know where the data were supporting the shift in delivery.

One parent who said her child needed reading support, however, vocally expressed her approval of the reading pull-outs: "I think it's fabulous."

But most questions and comments from the parents in the room challenged Barker.

Early in the meeting, Barker had noted the distrust between parents and the district with regard to special education. She alluded to the two years ago as a particular point of pain.

After the meeting, several parents expressed that distrust.

A number of parents said that Barker answered many of their questions but that they worried that the district was adjusting students' IEPs (individual education plans for special education classified students) to fit the new reading pull-out program rather than creating the new reading pull-outs to fit the IEPs.

For the school district's full statement on inclusion, visit .

There may be further updates to this article today. The Patch reporter left the meeting before its conclusion and is following up.

Jenny April 17, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Thanks for reporting on this, Mary. I was at the meeting, and it's still not clear exactly what changes are being made and how they will affect students with special needs. The distrust that parents feel is a result of sudden changes to district offerings at this (budget) time every year, appallingly bad communications from the Department of Special Services about policy or program shifts, and inconsistency in implementation of those at the school level. I hope district leadership - elected and appointed - finally takes notice of this pattern and the damage it wreaks and takes corrective action.

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