St. Paul mainstreams troubled kids

St. Paul schools are mainstreaming students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, closing most classrooms at special centers for high-needs children. It works for some students, reports the Pioneer Press. But others are struggling. And some teachers aren’t getting special ed support.

Lenairion Cole went to school in a room for “bad kids” last year, and he rarely ventured out.

At St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Elementary this year, he is in a regular fifth-grade classroom. On his locker are his goals: “Do better at math.” “Do better at my behavior.”

Last year, the school’s learning center served about 45 students identified with problems ranging from severe depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder. The center had a teacher and two aides for every eight to 10 students. Math and reading proficiency scores were very low, well below scores for mentally retarded students.

The majority hardly ever left the center’s confines, said Catherine Butcher, the school’s special education coordinator.

“We felt that the students had to be perfect before we would let them go,” she said.

This fall, all former learning center students started in mainstream classrooms. Some, like Lenairion, are doing well. “I can learn better with a lot of kids instead of a bunch of bad kids that distracted me in class,” Lenairion said. “I work harder now.”

Others have acted out in class. Twenty percent of former learning center students are spend nearly the whole day in mainstream classes, said Elizabeth Keenan, who directs special education for the district. Another 20 percent are primarily in resource rooms. The rest are in between.

With special ed teachers in mainstream classrooms, “students have the same supports they had in the learning center,” Superintendent Valeria Silva told the school board. Some classes have two aides.

That’s not always true, reports the Pioneer Press.

At Bruce Vento, four classrooms that serve former learning center students don’t do any such co-teaching because they are not enough special education teachers. And entire grades share one aide among three or four classrooms.

On a recent walkthrough, Masini stepped in to calm an upset fourth-grader tossing books in the back of a classroom. The teacher is one of the school’s most talented educators, Masini said. But without a special education colleague to help, she’s had a stressful start of the year.

Last year at Frost Lake Elementary, “about 35 students with emotional and behavioral disabilities were referred out of the classroom for behavioral issues 739 times in the first two months of the year; this year, the same number of students had 438 referrals.” (Those numbers seem very high to me.)

“It’s messy. We’re not there yet,” said Principal Stacey Kadrmas. “We have varying degrees of teacher angst and students angst probably as well.”

More than 80 percent of EBD learning center students were black, although African-American children make up less than a third of the district’s enrollment, reports the Pioneer Press.

Reversing a trend of segregating students with special needs is a “moral imperative,” said Keenan. There’s also federal pressure.

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Comments

  1. (Elizabeth Keenan): “Reversing a trend of segregating students with special needs is a “moral imperative.”

    And it’s her job to push her morality on everyone else?

    Markets and federalism institutionalize humility on the part of State (government, generally) actors. If a policy dispute turns on a matter of values or taste, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services leave room for the expression of varied tastes, while the contest for control of a State-monopoly enterprise must inevitably create unhappy losers (who may comprise the vast majority; imagine the outcome of a city-wide or nationwide vote on the one size and style of shoes all 14-year-olds must wear). If a policy dispute involves a mater of fact, where “What works?” is an empirical question, numerous local policy regimes and competitive markets in goods and services will generate more accurate information than will a State-monopoly enterprise. A State-monopoly provider is like an experiment with one treatment and no controls, a retarded experimental design.

    Rule-bound bureaucracies do not handle human variety well. We have here a special case of the problem that ability grouping and career tracking present to the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools: the inevitable race and gender disparities that segregation by performance or behavior will produce will then expose the system to legal jeopardy on the grounds of disparate impact.

    When I was a Waianae High School, the sp-ed teachers worked 1/2 time in self-contained classrooms and 1/2 time with mainstreamed sp-ed students in regular-ed classrooms. Since no one kept track of their mainstream time, some of them simply worked 1/2 time, left the campus, and collected full-time pay.

    Mandatory (for schools to offer) credit-by-exam at any age and at any time of year for all courses required for graduation would bust the K-12 education racket.

  2. My district is in the forefront of this trend. THe first lawsuits have been settled, and the definition of an appropriate placement has been clarified a bit.

    Basically, the district found that most parents objected to violent students being mainstreamed, whether the violence was part of the disability or not. Those that were in the most included classes which turned out to mean that their children would be attacked with scissors and other sharp objects withdrew their children.

    • Classics Mom says:

      I hope that the lawsuits favored the parents who object to violent or disruptive kids in their kids’ classrooms. I am appalled (as a liberal Democrat, for the record) that educrats and others are pushing back against suspending unruly students and are pushing for complete mainstreaming of all kids, no matter the consequences for the other kids. I find it appalling the FAPE does not apply to my kid.

  3. GoogleMaster says:

    Doesn’t the “A” in FAPE stand for “appropriate”? It seems that different people have different ideas about what is an “appropriate” setting for violent children. They shouldn’t all be mainstreamed, if mainstreaming is not appropriate for their symptoms and/or diagnosis.

  4. And therein lies the problem. The managers/theorists are talking disparate impact, when I’m expected to evaluate a child based on his merits, situation, and testing.

    So, who’s correct? I certainly can justify everyone of my evaluations, but somebody else decides it’s disparate?

    Talk about a Kafkaesque situation.

  5. How reliable was the placement in the learning centers? If they served as warehouses, what of the students who had a temporary time of crisis, such as a family divorce or death?

    I’m thinking of the Rosenhan study: http://www.sagepub.com/newman6study/resources/rosenhan1.htm.