"I envision a world where any question of school inclusion is answered with a resounding OF COURSE! and the details of that inclusion are joyfully, creatively, and skillfully planned and carried out in direct collaboration with the person receiving support." - Dr. Julie Causton
Ironically, the above quote showed up in my inbox today in reference to the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education's summer inclusion conference. Dr. Julie Causton is an expert in inclusion who we heard speak last year at the conference and has written many valuable resources for everyone involved in supporting a child with a disability in an inclusive setting. Today is also the day we showed up at an IEP meeting and sat and listened for an hour about how much progress Colin has made and how well he is doing. He is doing far better in many areas than he was doing at the beginning of the year. We have Colin's teachers and therapists in part to thank for that. There were challenges discussed; challenges that have carried through his entire life like difficulties when socializing, some difficulty with transitions, and academically, how he is at a lower level in both literacy and math compared to his typical peers. However, most of what was discussed was Colin's progress, and that made Chris and I feel so proud.
After listening to this progress, the case manager then started to discuss Colin's placement for next year. Even though he had made progress, it wasn't "at the same level" as his typical peers. Even though he made progress, his curriculum was modified too much. Even though he made progress, he repeated Kindergarten. Even though he's made progress, it's not good enough in their eyes. After an hour of discussing how well Colin is doing this year the bomb dropped; another self contained LLD placement for first grade.
When is it good enough? When will Colin get to stop having to prove himself and just get to be in a general education setting with his peers without having to prove that he can be there? When will Colin's progress be something to celebrate? When will Chris and I get to stop fighting for a basic RIGHT of Colin's and ALL students with a disability? This district has missed the boat somewhere along the line. Even though Colin has made progress he is being discriminated against because he comes with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome and it has been made clear to us that in this district, students like Colin have a specific place; a place that is separate and segregated from their non-disabled peers.
Here's the thing, the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that supports the education of students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Title I/B/612/a/5 - In general, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities...are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services CANNOT BE ACHIEVED SATISFACTORLY.
Part 300.116 - A child with disability is not removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms SOLELY because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.
In addition, students with disabilities do not need to be removed from a general education setting simply because they are not on grade level. That is why they have an individualized education plan.
Chris and I have been left, once again, to fight for what is RIGHT for Colin which is physically, emotionally and financially draining.