Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hey, School District!

Last night our district held a school board meeting. A segment of the meeting allows audience members to address the school board. This is what I told our school board.
Good evening 
I am here to talk to you about inclusive education at the preschool level. 
My husband and I have four children. My oldest son is in middle school, my oldest daughter is in elementary school, and my 3 year old is in Preschool at a different Elementary. My youngest is not yet in school.

Anna, my 3 year old, is blessed with an extra chromosome. She has Down syndrome and she is a fire cracker. She is in the developmental preschool program at   elementary. Her teacher really shows so much love for the kids and we know she is in good hands while she is at school. Anna lights up when she sees her bus and is excited to go to school. 
When I dropped her off at school a few weeks ago, I watched as all the big kids flooded off the buses and onto the playground. Then the kids on the little buses were escorted to their classroom. I know there is an age difference between my daughter and the kids on the playground, but what a missed opportunity to have kids together at something that is just such a normal, everyday thing as playing on the play ground before school.

This event caused me to look at Anna’s schooling differently. 
It is one of the reasons I am here tonight.

When Anna was too young for school and both of my older kids were in the same elementary school, one of the kids came home from school and asked me, “Where are all the kids with Down syndrome, mommy? Will Anna be allowed at my school?”

I didn’t have an answer.

I volunteered and went to events at the kid’s school. I looked around and there was not one child like my three year old in the school. We started to seek out local groups that we could take the kids to that involved kids their own age who have Down syndrome. I needed my kids to know that Anna was ok. Finding these groups was really good for my kids. They went to one event and watched movies with some kids. They have a lot of the same interests, likes and dislikes. They are all just kids.

This is our normal, but it shouldn’t be the abnormal. I shouldn’t have had to seek out situations for my kids to be around kids who happened to be blessed with an extra chromosome.

I want my kids to be in a world that welcomes them and I want them to be in a world that allows them to participate with the rest of the world. I want this world for all four of my kids.

I want both my daughters to go to school with the kids down the street. I want my kids to be in the same school if possible. I plan for a world that encourages all four of my kids to go to college and the opportunity to fully participate in the community.

I want my kids to learn to take care of themselves, to reach for the stars and to stand up for others.

Tonight I am giving you a copy of the recent joint Policy statement on inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs. by the US Department of Education and the US Department of Health and Human Services released in September of 2015.

The policy statement outlines that districts should “Strongly communicate inclusion as a shared responsibility and a top priority, and demonstrate a commitment to inclusion through policy changes and appropriate resource allocation at all levels.”

Meaningful inclusive education needs to happen.

I am going to read you a segment from the IDEA’s Least Restrictive Environment Provisions. I know I am likely preaching to the chior, but I want you to think about these words:
(IDEA’s LRE provisions are found at §§300.114 through 300.117.) Each public agency must ensure that—
(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and
(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. [§300.114(a]

As a district, we can make a difference and we need to look at what we can do together to bring this population into the classrooms with other kids.

A recent Dutch study published in June of this year in the Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities outlines that people with Down syndrome with lower IQs in inclusive settings did better than their counterparts with higher IQs in segregated settings. The data shows that being part of the classroom with typical kids, kids did better.

One of the barriers to inclusion is the fear of a negative impact on typical kids. What’s really cool is the data shows this is not the case. Many studies show that an inclusive education classroom actually benefits all students.

A 2001 study states:
“In the area of academic progress, Waldron, Cole, and Majd (2001) report that more students without disabilities made comparable or greater gains in math and reading when taught in inclusive settings versus traditional classrooms where no students with disabilities are included.”

A 1998 study states “Further evidence for the positive effects of inclusion on students without disabilities is reported by McGregor and Vogelsberg (1998). They found:
  • inclusion does not compromise general education students’ outcomes 
  • typical peers benefit from involvement and relationships with students who have disabilities in inclusive settings, and 
  • the presence of students with disabilities in general education classrooms leads to new learning opportunities for typical students.

Inclusive education is a huge benefit to all students, not just the students receiving special educational services.

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