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Education Reporter

'Mainstreaming' Is Main Problem
Inclusion harms students, teachers
Special education statutes and case law dictate that while special education students must be "mainstreamed" into regular classrooms whenever possible, they do not have to follow the same rules or suffer the same consequences for their actions as their classmates do. A lawyer-turned-school teacher for the past seven years in Houston, Texas (who asked that his name be withheld) described for Education Reporter how IDEA "has destroyed discipline in the schools."

He stated that when high school students in special education programs are disciplined, an Admission, Review and Dismissal Committee (ARD) must decide if their infractions were related to their learning disabilities. If this is determined to be the case, no punishment may be given.

Despite the stringency of zero tolerance policies in most school districts, even serious infractions go unpunished if an ARD committee determines that a special education student's actions were caused by a learning disability. "I have seen a boy with a gun and another boy with a bayonet walk away," our source stated, "and a boy smoking marijuana would have gotten away with it but for my strenuous objections."

This source explained that the problem is federal control, despite the fact that federal dollars make up less than 10% of a school district's budget. Congressional mandate requires school districts accepting federal dollars (which is most, if not all) to obey federal special education dictates. "What happens in practice," our source continued, "is that these statutes are interpreted by state agencies and school districts, with instructions set out in detail for ARD committees. These committees, made up of teachers, must answer specific questions dictated by the state. In the case of the boy with the gun, the ARD committee was asked if his reading disability related to his act of carrying a gun in his backpack. The argument was made that his inability to read was 'related' because, had he been a better reader, he would have known not to carry a gun."

"It is indeed that ludicrous," our source assured us. "Remember, these are teachers, not lawyers, and although they mean well, the threat of a lawsuit hangs over the entire proceeding, and they are under pressure to avoid lawsuits."

In a 1999 column entitled "Specially Ill-Educated," appearing in a promotional issue of The American Enterprise magazine, teacher T. Kelly Rossiter told a similar tale. "IDEA seeks to incorporate disabled students into the regular curriculum," Rossiter wrote. "Section 504 [of the law] expands the traditional definition of 'disabled.' In combination, these laws create a reaction more explosive than anything ever seen in chemistry class."

Rossiter described how "students with a very loosely defined set of 'behavioral difficulties'" receive special civil rights protection and can't be disciplined. "I've walked miles shadowing my charges while they destroy school property, bang on classroom windows, and scream obscenities to both students and staff," he wrote.

Rossiter blames "parent advocacy groups backed by phalanxes of attorneys and funding from the Department of Education," which prod parents to sue. He described a situation in California's Ocean View School District, where a student with a "communicative disorder" developed a history of attacking students, kicking staff members, and biting teachers. "Claiming the school set [the boy] up for failure," Rossiter explained, "Jimmy P.'s father refused to allow him to be removed from mainstream classrooms." The school sought an injunction to override the father's objection and, although it passed muster in state court, a federal court overturned it, ruling that injuries caused by Jimmy "weren't enough to warrant removal."

Rossiter told of both male and female students who fail their classes because they refuse to open their textbooks and who curse teachers and principals. "Even with an army of aides it's impossible to prevent this behavior," he asserted, "when 'behaviorally disabled' students know that no disciplinary measures can be taken. But it's happening now with your tax dollars in your schools, in the name of civil rights."

Nationally-syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin observed in an editorial in the Washington Times (4-13-01) that "IDEA's concept of 'mainstreaming' is based not on sound science but on political science." Malkin wrote that "zealous activists, embracing a radical egalitarian agenda, pushed for the integration of all disabled kids into the public schools at all costs. But," she asks, "is such forced and illusory 'inclusion' worth the price?"

Most parents would doubtless say no if they realized full inclusion's potential for tragedy. In 1994, a 15-year-old special education student classified as having a behavior disorder was mainstreamed into regular classrooms in suburban St. Louis without a paper trail to show the extent of his problems. After leaving his controlled environment, his infractions included roaming school halls and hanging around in girls' restrooms. Expelling him was not an option because the boy's actions were deemed related to his disability. Instead, the school district transferred him to another high school, where he raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl in the girls' restroom in Jan. 1995. He was convicted of the crimes in 1998 and sentenced to life in prison. (See Education Reporter, Feb. 1995 and May 1998.)

Inclusion can also be tragic for children with serious physical disabilities. An educator in Illinois writes Education Reporter: "One of the saddest sights I see every day is a child functioning at a two-year-old level with little controllable physical movement who is forced to sit in her wheelchair hour after hour in the 4th- and 5th- grade classrooms. Naturally, she is bored and begins to loudly yelp, which is disruptive to the class."

"The aide who takes care of her during the day thought she had found a solution because the child enjoys the noise of the kindergarten class. When the aide wheeled the girl into the kindergarten classroom, she made sounds of joy. Unfortunately, when her mother, an inclusion fanatic, heard that her daughter was spending part of the day in kindergarten, she forbade that from happening again, all in the pretense of normalcy!"

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