Administering Special Education: In Pursuit of Dignity and Autonomy: Volume 7


Table of contents

(15 chapters)

Public school educators are confronted daily with myriad issues that demand unique knowledge of not only educational processes, but of political and financial ones as well. Among the most important of these issues are the social and moral responsibilities to educate children with disabilities. During the late 1960s and 1970s, the nation experienced a new sensitivity to human rights as well as an increased awareness of the indignities suffered as a result of discrimination and the denial of rights of persons with disabilities. Of late, the mood of the people and the national leadership has appeared to turn somewhat away from the abiding interest in human rights; nonetheless, the recognition of rights continues, as they have emanated from federal Constitutional interpretations and statutes. Both sources of rights constitute a persistent reflection of civil and cultural advancements of significant proportions. Thus, rights have become vested by action of government, and the public schools have been, in large part, the vehicle for ensuring the realization of these rights. School administrators, by virtue of their public responsibilities, have been the advance guard in effectively achieving and implementing these rights. Children with disabilities have posed a particular educational challenge because remediation of disabilities was intensely personal and many times unique to the individual child. Thus, of necessity, the educational responses and procedures were correspondingly singular and in most cases very complex, requiring a substantial commitment of public school financial resources. It goes without saying that the right to an appropriate education remains a hollow promise without provision of adequate and continuing public support.

Since November 29, 1975, when President Gerald Ford signed the original bill entitled the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), school services for disabled children have been a major component of public school administration in America. The ethical awareness and the legal complexities engendered by this legislation have required school superintendents nationwide to develop expertise, provide leadership, and wrestle with budgetary issues in accommodating and providing equal opportunity for these children. Subsequent amendments to the federal legislation, coupled with state initiatives expanding opportunity, have created an endless array of conditions requiring pervasive knowledge of special education and sharply honed administrative skills. In particular, the 1997 amendments to the IDEA expanded the law beyond merely requiring access; it furthered an emphasis on outcomes and educational performance, and helped clarify the concept of inclusion.

In the United States, a child with a disability is vested with the statutory right to a free appropriate public education. Public school districts fulfill this right with an individualized education program designed to address the educational needs of the child. As with all governmental programs designed to extend positive benefits, statutory rights to a free appropriate public education come with attendant and commensurate costs that must be paid by the taxpayer. Rights have costs, and while the rights may be absolute, the remedy to a rights deficiency is subject to political processes. To borrow from Ronald Dworkin’s famous aphorism, costs and politics ultimately trump the right to a free appropriate public education.

The tremendous relevance of societal discrimination to special education of the learning disabled cannot be gainsaid. Mistreatment of disabled children in public and private educational institutions is a bad reflection on the moral and egalitarian values of the society at large. “Many students, regardless of race, who are deemed eligible to receive special education services [mandated by federal laws] are unnecessarily isolated, stigmatized, and confronted with fear and prejudice” (Losen & Welner, 2001, p. 407). According to the U.S. Congress, “poor African-American children are 2.3 times more likely to be identified by their teacher as having mental retardation than their white counterpart” (20 U.S.C. §1400 (8)(c) Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)). Congress has also found that a highly disproportionate number of elementary and secondary special education students are African-Americans (IDEA §1400 (8)(D)) and their social disadvantage stems from “lack of opportunities in training and educational programs, undergirded by the practices in the private sector that impede their full participation in the mainstream society” (IDEA §1400 (10)).

No person in the United States shall, on the grounds or race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, or be so treated on the basis of sex under most education programs or activities receiving Federal assistance. No otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States shall, solely by reason of his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance (U.S. Department of Education, 2001).

Numerous social conditions directly impact young people with disabilities as they enter adulthood. One such condition is the difficulty these individuals face in obtaining competitive work in an integrated setting. The consequence of this social reality is further magnified when they have received inadequate preparation for employment. Additional quality of life inhibitors often include isolation, dependence, and lack of control over their own lives. These and other social challenges have prompted the United States to initiate a national movement known as transition, which refers to the process of helping young people with disabilities prepare to successfully assume adult roles and responsibilities in a more integrative, collaborative, and supportive community.

Children with disabilities that exhibit maladaptive behaviors as a result of abuse and neglect require consideration of a more comprehensive, alternative method of assessment to determine the source and patterns of the behaviors. The need exists to go beyond an assessment of the current level of intellectual functioning, individual academic achievement, and functional behavior to a more ethological approach that considers the dynamics in the home and social settings that influence development. The careful analysis of the child’s social and academic records; patterns and frequency of movement for those in out-of-home placements; interviews and records of primary care givers; along with the intellectual and academic assessments enables special educators, social workers, school staff, and health care professionals to more effectively address the individual needs of the child. This paper discusses assessment methods that utilize a more comprehensive approach to determine the factors that lead to high levels of maladaptive behavior in special needs children. Additionally, alternative intervention strategies are recommended that include establishing the child’s perceived primary care giver with the most stable environment to facilitate the child’s development of more appropriate behaviors.

The premise of this work is that in most societies significant proportions of children do not experience optimum well-being. The goals of this work are: (1) to delineate and illustrate the tangled web of multifactorial causation and heterogeneity of causation for impaired well-being; and (2) to develop the proposition that these very characteristics of causation necessitates particular risk screening strategies which allow for timely interventions. The essence of such screening is to assess target effects which may be consequence of multiple factors, by cost-effective and universally applicable means. This screening paradigm will be examined briefly in relation to selected long standing screening systems, such as “triple test” screening of the fetus, and universal newborn genetic screening. The accumulated experiences with these systems provide some insights on strategic designated planning for risk screening which could be applied in areas of universal newborn screening for prenatal teratogen exposure effects, screening for indicators of systemically imposed disadvantages in the child’s experience, screening the child for inattention to quality of health, and screening for indicators of risk for violent behavior. Such applications of risk screening, if appropriately embedded in universal service structures, e.g. newborn nurseries and schools, can allow for timely interventions for the most vulnerable children.

During the last decade, school districts throughout the United States have implemented inclusion programs utilizing a variety of models. A growing number of school districts are including all students with disabilities, even those with severe disabilities, into general education classrooms (Thousand & Villa, 1990). Although the term inclusion has no legal definition, and has been interpreted by educational professionals in a variety of ways, the concept has been in existence under the least restrictive environment (LRE) provision of PL 94-142, The Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975, PL 101-476, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 and most recently within PL 105-17, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments (IDEA) of 1997. According to IDEA (1997), public education agencies are required to ensure that: 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 that 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 [Authority 20 U.S.C. 1412 (a) (5)].The concept of inclusion has been defined in various ways within the literature. Catlett and Osher (1994) reviewed policy statements of professional organizations and found at least seven different definitions for inclusion. Currently, in education, inclusion is the term used when students with disabilities are placed in general education classrooms for a portion of the school day (Falvey et al., 1995b). The term inclusion is differentiated from mainstreaming. Mainstreaming refers to the placement of students with disabilities in general education classrooms with appropriate instructional support (Meyen, 1990). When students are mainstreamed, they are usually prepared prior to placement into general education and are expected to “keep up” with the general classroom expectations (Rogers, 1993). Students with disabilities who are mainstreamed receive the same or nearly the same curriculum as general education students and are expected to “fit” into the general curriculum and classroom. On the other hand, within inclusive programs, the general education teacher is expected to make adaptations to provide a suitable environment for students with disabilities. Within the literature on inclusion, there are a variety of interpretations of the definition of inclusion (e.g. Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Rogers, 1993; Stainback & Stainback, 1984). For the purposes of this chapter, inclusion is defined as programs in which students with disabilities (with the exception of gifted) are eligible for special education, have an individualized education program (IEP), and receive their education in general education classrooms using different, modified, and/or additional curricula from students without disabilities. This definition of inclusion is similar to “selective inclusion” as described by Zionts (1997). Selective inclusion refers to partial general education class placement of students with disabilities (Zionts). The assumption that this definition is based on is that general education is not always appropriate for every student; some students may benefit by receiving individualized services in addition to general education.

International rates of child maltreatment, particularly for children with disabilities are difficult to determine due to a lack of centralized data bases, a tendency to not keep consistent records of disability characteristics in cases of suspected maltreatment, and in extreme cases, because maltreatment is not acknowledged or addressed publicly (Bonner et al., 1997; Morris, 1999). Therefore, most of the data on prevalence rates of maltreatment in disabled children are from western cultures such as the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. There is some evidence to suggest that the rates internationally are probably at least equal to those in the U.S. samples (Cooke & Standen, 2002; Gringorenko, 1998). Finklehor (1994) found that the rates of sexual abuse were consistent across nations for both males and females. The nations in that study included most European countries, Canada, Dominican Republic, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. On the other hand, Forrester and Harwin (2000) note that measuring child maltreatment internationally is nearly impossible due to the varying cultural norms, national resources, and the tendency for many forms of maltreatment to go unnoticed. They suggest that an alternative to measuring maltreatment internationally may be to evaluate each nation’s willingness to both address issues regarding the rights of children and to provide services to children who are maltreated.

This chapter addresses the question of how we might best characterize the morale of mothers of children with disabilities. Views of this question have undergone substantial evolution over the past quarter century (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2002). Early writers on the topic emphasized negative impacts on the family. Farber (1959) characterized the birth of a mentally retarded child as a tragic crisis that over time impeded the family from developing normally. Olshansky (1962) described the typical reaction of parents to a child with mental retardation as long-term demoralization, which he termed “chronic sorrow.” These assertions were then followed by empirical studies suggesting high levels of depression in mothers of children with disabilities (Cummings et al., 1966; Gath, 1977). Gath (1977), for example, compared two groups of parents with and without children with disabilities on a researcher developed measure of psychological distress and found significantly higher levels in parents of children with disabilities. She titled her report, “The impact of an abnormal child upon the parents,” seeming to imply that emotional distress, perhaps even mental illness, was the most characteristic impact. This literature also appeared to imply that the cause of parental distress was univariate, that is, the child’s disability uniquely caused it. Early studies of parental distress selected child variables as the sole predictors of emotional distress (e.g. Beckman, 1983). Turnbull and Turnbull (2002) reviewed this literature and described this historical phase as pathogenic.

Questions about the short- and long-term effects of the trauma of 9/11 on students with special needs and the coping strategies used by their teachers to deal satisfactorily with the effects prompted the creation of a survey to examine these issues. While the survey was in its inception and before its completion, a consultation was held with a counselor from the Behavioral Studies program at the University of South Alabama to ensure that the survey was thorough and relevant to post-traumatic stress.

Among the critical issues facing special education today is the lack of highly qualified and well trained professionals who are capable of working with the increasing numbers of students with diverse needs referred for special education supports and services. In both the popular media and the research literature, experts are attempting to delineate the numbers of schools and programs without trained, certified special educators and are attempting to predict how many more special educators will be needed in the next three to five years to come (Boe et al., 1998; Garnes et al., 2002; Goodnough, 2003; Hammond, 2003). Suffice to say, the field of special education is facing a critical shortage of teachers. There are three general goals to be achieved. As a field, we have been challenged to find high quality potential special educators from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. We need special educators equipped with more effective teaching strategies for a very diverse student population. We are engaged in an international pursuit to retain and improve the teacher efficacy and quality in inclusive settings given a changing educational policy context.

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Advances in Educational Administration
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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