While discussing recent tours of special education classrooms at two different district campuses, the Leander Independent School District Board returned to the conversation of inclusion.
LISD Board Member Aaron Johnson said one of the things that he was looking for during the tour was more about the inclusion conversation that had been had recently. Specifically, Johnson asked for the numbers regarding inclusion in the district.
“These are important numbers because they shape perception about inclusion or lack of inclusion in our system,” Johnson said.
LISD Director of Special Education Sandy Kelly-khan said the district has 5,400 students receiving special education services. Of those, Kelly-khan said there are only 10 students who do not go into any inclusion settings because of the severity of their individual health issues or disabilities.
“Most of our students are out in the general population all day long,” Kelly-khan said.
LISD Executive Director of K-12 Programs Kendra Shaffer said that it is not about the numbers, but rather a mindset.
“It’s a mindset,” Shaffer said. “It’s the language that we use. It’s the inclusivity feel amongst the families in the community … where this is really coming from is that mindset of inclusiveness, that we’re all in this. We’re all general education students first, before we ever receive any supports or services.”
Johnson said that while that is correct, the numbers are also important.
“I think they tell an aggregate story, which as a board member, is something that I’m concerned about,” Johnson said. “I’m also concerned about the individual student experience.”
Johnson said the tour reminded him about the importance of students with disabilities spending as much time as possible with their similarly-situated peers, and vice versa.
LISD Board Member Pamela Waggoner asked how the board can bridge the disconnect between the district and the community.
“When we ask for the real numbers, the numbers come back and only 10 kids are actually not going to general education,” Waggoner said. “So, there’s not this huge number of kids that we’re keeping in a classroom somewhere and not putting out to the general population … So where is the breakdown of communication with parents of what we’re seeing and how we’re educating the students?”
Shaffer said the best way to bridge that gap is to have open communication and dialogue with the families whose children receive special education services in the district.
“Both parties understand how to work together,” Shaffer said. “It’s going to take trying things and true collaboration.”
Though board members discussed the numbers, LISD Board President Trish Bode and Board Members Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia, Waggoner and Johnson also discussed how they were seeing great co-teaching and inclusion on the campuses they toured in the district.
Most said they could not tell which students were receiving services and which were not. Likewise, they often could not tell which teachers were special education teachers or not.
Board members did note that some campuses, possibly including the ones they toured, have some of the better special education programs in the district.
Gonzales-Dholakia said if the district could get all schools to communicate effectively and proactively with families, special education could improve throughout the district.
“It’s about making sure we are giving them (parents) all of the information,” Gonzales-Dholakia said. “What we see are that some schools are really proactive with giving families that information and building those relationships. Those relationships help the process a lot.”
Bode said the district will keep working to make improvements in their communication with and support of both the special education program and the community.
“We want to increase our parent participation and make sure there is more of this partnership,” Bode said.