Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mainstreaming Special Needs Students Takes on a New Meaning in Kansas District

An interesting blog today from Education Week's Christina Samuels touched on an innovative new program being implemented in Wichita, Kan., that changes the way traditional area "alternative" schools for special education students are run. Principal Jackie Hultman tells the Wichita Eagle that only 10 percent of students ever transfer out of the school's concentrated special-education environment, so to meet federal guidelines, more special ed kids are moving out and about 20 regular-education kids, many of whom have been previously expelled or suspended, are moving in.

The article states:

School board members said Guthrie and district officials have answered their concerns that dangerous students would be placed with mentally ill students.

"We're not wanting to place any (students at Sowers) involved in gang activity or aggressive behavior," Guthrie said.

See, it seems many of these students were guilty of "unintentional battery of school employees but have a second chance at graduating." Really. Hence the "alternative" moniker rather than the previous names of special education centers. But it's not like these bad apples will be running amok and terrorizing those special ed students who remain, as the new transferred-in students will be using their own bathrooms, at least so says the school.

It's interesting to see another form of "mainstreaming" at work. From the school transportation perspective, it has been a trend for the less severely disabled students to be incorporated onto regular route school buses to save schools money, as special needs transportation can be 10 times more expensive. But now we see the reversing happening, where regular education kids albeit with some very real temper problems are being introduced into the special needs population that needs patience and understanding.

And, like on the transportation side, it's being done to potentially save money, or, more aptly put, save the school from shutting down. he district faces cutting at least $21 million from its budget of more than $600 million. It likely will have to cut more, as Gov. Mark Parkinson last week announced deeper cuts to state aid for public education.

The program is championed by Alexa E. Posny, the commissioner of the State Department of Education and the former director of the U.S. Department of Ed's Office of Special Education Programs. The same woman President Obama recently tabbed to be the next assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. She says special education kids learn better when they're regular education classroom peers push them to succeed.

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