PARENTS & FAMILIES NEWSLETTER
This is the June 2021 edition of Stand for Children’s Parents and Families Newsletter. Started in 2019, our hope is that this monthly resource provides the practical solutions that parents and family members are asking for. Past topics have included graduation requirements, financial aid, and remote learning.
We are proud to share this edition of our newsletter created by Stand Parent Fellow Devony Audet about a highly requested topic: Special Education. This is the second of three blogs in Devony's series about SpEd. You can read her first blog in the series here. Scroll down for links to Devony’s new short video series about SpEd. If you'd like to receive this monthly in your email inbox, sign up here.
Inclusion made the biggest difference for my family.
When my oldest son started transitioning from elementary to middle school, I didn’t even know what LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) was. My son has an IEP with the qualifying disability of autism. The elementary school told me when he moved to middle school, he would be in a resource room for ELA and Math, a support class for reading, and a CAP class which is for emotional and behavioral support. His advisory would also be with a special education teacher. This would leave PE and one other class with his general education peers. I thought this was just “how things were” because of the support he needed. Sadly, this is the experience many parents and students with IEPs face in Washington State. This is why our inclusion rates rank 44th in the country.
Thankfully, my son was transitioning into a middle school that was just becoming part of the Inclusionary Practices Project through OSPI with a principal who is passionate about inclusion. The goal of the Inclusionary Practices Project is for 80% or more of students in special education to be included in general education classes 80% or more of the day. My journey learning about why inclusion was important was just beginning and it all started with firsthand experience with my son.
His new principal - we will call her Wonder Woman - built a fantastic relationship with him, which is one of the key pieces to inclusion. She then said he would be in inclusion classes instead of resource classes. A resource class is when a special education teacher teaches a class of only students in special education. Inclusion is when a student is in a “regular” general education class and receives the support and accommodations that they need to be successful from a special education teacher in that class. I wasn’t sure how well this was going to work for my son, but it wasn’t long until I saw the difference in both his social and emotional learning as well as huge amounts of academic growth.
You see, every study done on inclusion shows conclusive data that a student with special needs being in a class alongside their general education peers is good for them socially, emotionally, and academically. It also improves the school climate.
What I have learned in my experience over the last two years is that a child benefits from being in the Least Restrictive Environment. Now, I want to make it clear that SOMETIMES a class in a more restrictive environment can be the best placement, and that should be decided by the IEP team. However, to the maximum extent possible, every student should be in general education settings which will greatly improve their outcomes.
For instance, from data collected in Washington by OSPI, in 2013 the percentage of students with IEPs in general education 80% or more of the day was 50.05%. During that time, our graduation rates for students with IEPs was 62.4%. In 2019 57.73% of students with IEPs were included 80% or more of the day and the graduation rate for students in special education was 69.53%. Currently in my own school district, a high school that is part of an inclusion model has a graduation rate of 81.5% for students with IEPs compared to another school that is not part of the inclusion model with a graduation rate of 57.1%.
This is personal to me because my son’s future depends on how much a school is willing to include him. In 6th grade my son was many years behind in reading, and I am so proud to say he is now reading at grade level. In 6th grade he was able to independently write a single sentence and now he is writing a book as he enters ninth grade. In 6th he was sad and withdrawn, rarely participating in class, failing almost every subject, and not allowed to participate in many school activities. He is now the Vice President of the ASB, passing every class, loves participating socially in his classes, and joins, to the best of his ability, in every school activity that strikes his fancy.
My son is still autistic. He still dislikes many school subjects. He is still the same quirky kid he has always been, which makes him the amazing person he is. The difference was when a school believed that every child - including mine - was a valuable member of their school and believed every child had an equal seat at the table. This improved every outcome possible for my son. He will be moving up to high school next year and we are sad to leave Wonder Woman behind, but we know the future holds untold possibilities because my son will be in an inclusion setting where EVERY child no matter their first language, zip code, socioeconomic status, disability, or anything else that might make them unique will be valued and included.
If you’d like to learn more about inclusion, I invite you to click through any of the resources below. If you’d like to take action in support of inclusion, ask your local school district about their inclusion policies. You can send me an email here and I’ll send you a template letter to start with. If you’re looking for more resources about special education, check out my new short video series and let me know if you have suggestions for future videos.
https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=59 - national data inclusion
https://k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/specialed/inclusion/Inclusi... - state data inclusion
https://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2018/parts-b-c/key-finding... - national data graduation
https://www.k12.wa.us/sites/default/files/public/specialed/data/pubdocs/... - pre and post project data OSPI
https://washingtonstatereportcard.ospi.k12.wa.us/ - OSPI report card