For students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, most elementary school districts offer a classroom model with a single teacher and low student/teacher ratios. Middle and high schools, by comparison, typically do not offer the single teacher or single classroom model and require students to attend several different classrooms with different teachers, different peers, and different schedules from day to day.
For many students, these daily changes can provide built in sensory breaks, welcomed breaks in teaching styles and other breaks that have a positive impact. For other students though, the inconsistencies in classroom, teachers, peers and schedules can result in transition issues, inconsistencies in the use of accommodations and modifications, difficulties in IEP monitoring and daily communications, disruption in peer relationships and other problems which can cause otherwise avoidable “down time” and other negative results. Symptoms of problems with the typical middle school model may be include unmet goals, constant disorganization, an increase in student’s behaviors and anxiety, and an overall dislike with school. What can you do if your student is poorly adapting to the typical middle or high school school program in your district?
1. Gather Information. Ask around to see how many students are placed at non-local schools or in nonpublic schools because there is no program at the student’s local school. Ask parents of students at your student’s school if their child’s IEP goals are being met using the typical model and if not, keep a tally of how many students are not meeting their goals in the typical school model. Ask whether the student’s goals were being met in a self contained classroom before going to the middle or high school in question.
The goal is to obtain facts to determine whether there is a need for a self contained classroom and, if so, to demonstrate that the provision of a self contained mild moderate classroom will likely improve IEP successes (and possibly be a cost saving measure as well). Load up on information by asking parents at the non-local schools, advocates, special interest groups, private therapists and others who are involved with special education groups or students. Find out the costs involved in transporting students to their non-local school or to the public school. Research what other districts have done and the success rate using the single teacher model. Put this information together in an easily understood format.
2. Present a Public Comment. Present a public comment before the district’s school board or the”SELPA” (special education local plan area) requesting that a mild moderate track be set up throughout the district or as a “regional classroom.” Public comments generally have a time limit (e.g. 3 minutes) and are simply statements you make before a board. The Board does not respond but there is a notation in the Board minutes reflecting the content of the public comment with your request for action. The dates of the board meetings should be on the board’s website along with information on how and when public comments can be presented. If you present a public comment, it is always helpful to have copies of your comment for each board member for their reference.
3. Contact your local area board. In California, the state is divided into numerous “Area Boards” to serve the state’s population affected by developmental disabilities. Area Board 13 serves the San Diego and Imperial Valley area and is “responsible for ensuring the protection of the legal, civil and service rights of persons who require services or who are receiving services through publicly funded agencies that serve or may serve persons with developmental disabilities”. Members of the board shall “provide advocacy for systemic change to improve the lives of children and adults who have developmental disabilities.” (http://www.scdd.ca.gov/Area_Board/Area_Board_13.htm).
4. Get support. Post your concerns on websites or in newsletters that serve persons who support persons with disabilities such as valerieslist.com and other recognized groups to form a grass roots group to help advocate your request. Battling alone can be tiring but battling as a group can be invigorating. Find others with common stories or concerns to help advocate.
As a parent or educator, you have a responsibility to try to help provide an environment where the student can learn. Sometimes it is not a matter of change of placement but rather a change in the setting of the placement.