At the opposite end of the hall is the school's self-contained classroom

They are them.
The rest of the school is us.





 A 'Placement' in a regular class

by Michael Bailey




Why do her mother and I feel such anxiety about next year and her school future in general?

Eleanor's story is true. (see "School is Where My Friends Are.") Her IEP Team for the past seven years has always 'placed' her in the Least Restrictive Environment; that is, she has gone to her neighborhood school, in a classroom with appropriate related services including a one-on-one educational assistant. With these supports in place she has made progress every year on the educational goals set out in her Individual Education Plan. Thus she is entitled to remain with her friends.
Her current 'placement' has been a great success. Marilyn Karr, her teacher, welcomed her into her class from the beginning and has always made Eleanor feel not only a part of the class but a valued member as well.
Eleanor's educational assistant, Lana Craig, has been with Eleanor for two years and is an unusually competent and dedicated person. Eleanor regards Lana, and Lana's dog Kola, as her special friends and has done a lot of things with them outside the classroom.
Many of Eleanor's classmates have been with her from the first grade and do not regard having her as a classmate as anything unusual or extraordinary. They are understanding of who she is, what she can do well and what she needs help with. They are quick to support and praise her.
Why then do her mother and I feel such anxiety about next year and her school future in general? Partly it is because we are aware that her 'placement' is regrettably not so much about her as it is about us. Don't get me wrong. Eleanor is a great and in many ways exceptional young woman. We know a large number of other children with Down syndrome who are in very restrictive placements and without the supports Eleanor has. There doesn't seem to be much real difference between their and her basic abilities.
Why is she with 'normal' kids and they are not?

The answer is that her parents are skilled, trained advocates who know the system, the buzzwords, and how to get what we want. It is not a matter of our loving her more than other families love their children. What hangs over our heads is the injustice done to others and the pressure to perform as super parents in order to each year achieve a 'placement' that leaves her with her friends in her school, pursuing her individual goals.

At the opposite end of the hall from Eleanor's room is the school's self-contained classroom. The kids in that class are separated from the rest and stand out as school oddities.
It is not that they are laughed at or abused, but where Eleanor is just another kid, her friends in the self-contained classroom stand out as special. They take recess at a different time. They eat lunch separately. They are escorted around the school. They are 'them'; the rest of the school is 'us'.

Eleanor is 'placed' in her 'least restrictive environment', a highly defined (see Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, Section 300.550 -556) provision of IDEA '97. In order for a 'least restrictive environment' to exist there always is, by definition, a 'more restrictive environment' where a kid can end up. My experience is that when kids start out in a self-contained class (keep in mind they are five years old when that decision is made), they will not escape back into the 'real' school.
For those of us who start with an inclusion placement, there is an expectation that it can only go on for so long and than we will, of course, revert to another, more restrictive, placement more 'appropriate' for the student.

When kids 'fail' in an inclusion placement, it is never their fault. It is always the fault of the school. Either the school has failed to provide the necessary supports, lacks the professional skill necessary, or has an attitude that makes failure a preordained outcome. Naturally the failure is then used as evidence that inclusion cannot work.
When I first studied IDEA, the Least Restrictive Environment provisions seemed to me to be positive ones. What I did not know is that they are simply a first, federally-mandated step requiring schools to abandon their time-honored method of dealing with kids with disabilities by ignoring and excluding them entirely or, more recently, allowing them in but carefully segregating them from kids who would otherwise be in their class. A step in the right direction, not the end of the struggle.

What we need now is to eliminate the concept of least restrictive environment in favor of the simple notion that kids belong with other kids. All children must have the right to be educated with their peers. With supports, every child can succeed. Every child must be an 'inclusion' child.

My other daughter, Taylor, is nine years old. She is not 'placed' every fall. She simply goes where her class goes. That must become true for every child. Eleanor's education with her friends and neighbors must be a right and not a subjective game played between her parents and the school district.

It is time to abandon 'placement' and 'least restrictive environment'. Everyone matters. Everyone is important. Everyone is unique. Kids belong with kids. It is that simple.



read Eleanor's story of what it's like to go to school with your friends

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This is the first of two Michael Bailey articles in our Special Education issue. The second is "Becoming the Best Advocate a Kid Can Have."

To buy the great big Special Ed issue where these articles appear, come to our Attitude catalog store. Click here.

photo of Eleanor's parents, apparently in some official officeplace
Photo: Eleanor Bailey's parents, Jonna Schuder and Michael Bailey