Charters designed for students with disabilities are renewing the “inclusion debate,” reports Arianna Prothero in Ed Week.
Diana Diaz-Harrison opened a charter school in Phoenix for her son, who has autism, and similar students. The Arizona Autism Charter School, which enrolls 90 students, “is among dozens of charters nationwide that focus on serving students with disabilities,” writes Prothero.
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires that students with disabilities be taught in the “least restrictive environment.” That usually means mainstreaming students.
Some parents prefer a specialized school designed for their children’s needs.
About 100 charters are designed for special-ed students, according to the Center for Education Reform. While some are disability-specific, others “serve children with a range of disabilities as well as their typically developing peers.”
Several years ago, I visited charters designed for disabled and mainstream students in Michigan and California as a freelance writer on Unique Schools for Unique Students, a Center on Reinventing Public Education book on charters for special-needs students.
Not everyone thinks mainstreaming is the best strategy.
“A majority of kids with disabilities are performing very poorly—very, very poorly—where they receive all or most of their instruction in the mainstream classroom,” said Doug Fuchs, a special education professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “Inclusion must account for whether or not students are profiting educationally from the mainstream setting.”
Many students at Arizona Autism Charter School were doing poorly in mainstream classrooms, says Diaz-Harrison.
Special-ed co-teachers may function as “very expensive finger pointers,” writes Peter DeWitt, who’s taught inclusion classes, in Ed Week. The Goldilocks quandary remains: “How do we find a balance between having higher expectations without making those expectations so high that we continue to make a marginalized population of students feel even more marginalized?”