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Happy Stakeholders in Special Education

Communicating With All the Parties with Claims on Special Education

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Happy Stakeholders in Special Education

Students and general education teachers are stakeholders in special education.

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Stakeholders in special education are the people who have something at stake. First there are the parents and the child, who have much more than success on standardized tests at stake. Parents are concerned about their children gaining the skills they need to reach independence. Students are the ones in school. Their stake includes both the things they are currently aware of, like "Am I happy?" and things which will only be evident when they reach maturity: "Will I have the skills to go to college or find a job?"

The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 42-142) established rights for children with handicaps. Because of the failure of public institutions to provide adequate services for children with handicaps, they gained new rights to these services. Now educational institutions, states, communities, and general education teachers have stakes in the successful delivery of services to children with disabilities. We as special educators find ourselves in the middle.

Students

First, of course, are the students. Keeping them happy in the present moment may make our lives easy, but denies them the challenges they need to do their best and acquire the skills they need to live independently. For a special educator the Rigor that we need to create is to align our instruction as much as possible to the standards: in most states today they are the Common Core State Standards. By following standards we guarantee that we are laying down a foundation for future success in the curriculum, even though we may only be "approximating" the general education curriculum.

Parents

Next, of course, are parents. Parents are delegated the responsibility to act in the best interest of their children, though in some cases legal guardians or agencies may act on the child's behalf. If they believe that the Individual Education Plan (IEP) does not meet their child's needs, they have legal remedies, from asking for a due process hearing to taking the school district to court.

Special educators who make the mistake of ignoring or discounting parents may be in for a rude awakening. Some parents are difficult (see Difficult Parents,) but even they usually are concerned about their children's success. On the very, very rare occasion you will get a parent who suffers from Muenchhausen by Proxy Syndrome, but mostly parents seeking to get the right kind of help for their children don't know how to go about it, or they have been treated so dismissively that they will never trust a special educator. Keeping communication open with parents is the best way to have them as allies when you and their child face a really big behavioral challenge together.

General Educators

When the Education for All Handicapped Children was written, it established a couple of legal standards against which all programs are measured: FAPE (Free and Appropriate Public Education) and LRE (Least Restrictive Environment.) The law was based on the outcome of the PARC Vs. Pennsylvania lawsuit, which, when settled in the interest of the plaintives by the U.S. Supreme Court, established them as rights on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Initially, children were included in the General Education program under a concept called "mainstreaming" which basically placed children with disabilities in general education classes and they had to "sink or swim."

When that proved to be unsuccessful, the "inclusion" model was developed. In it, a general educator will either work with the special educator in a co-teaching model, or the special educator will come into the classroom a couple times a week and provide the differentiation the students with disabilities need. When done well, it benefits both special education and general education students. When done badly it makes all stakeholders unhappy. Working with general educators in inclusive settings is generally very challenging and requires developing relationships of trust and collaboration. (see "General Educators.")

Administrators

Generally, there are two levels of supervision. The first is the special education facilitator, coordinator, or whatever you district calls the person in this chair. Usually they are just teachers on special assignment, and they have no real authority of the special educator. That doesn't mean they can't make your life miserable, especially if the principal is dependent on that person to see that documents are completed properly and the program is in compliance.

The second level is the supervising principal. Sometimes this responsibility is delegated, but in most cases the assistant principal defers on important matters to the principal. Either the special education coordinator or the supervising principal should serve as the LEA (Legal Education Authority) at students' IEP meetings. Your principal's responsibility is broader than just being sure that IEP's are written and programs are compliant. With the NCLB emphasis on testing and progress, special education students may first be viewed as a demographic rather than individuals with challenges. Your challenge is to help your students while at the same time convincing your administrator that you are making a contribution to the success of the whole school.

Your Community

Often we miss the fact that our final stakeholder is the community in which we live. The success of children impacts our whole community. Often the cost of educating students, especially in smaller communities like those in New England, a few children with significant disabilities can create huge expense which can challenge fragile budgets. Private residential programs can be extraordinarily expensive, and when a district so fails a child that he or she ends up in a program that can cost a quarter million dollars a year, it has a serious negative impact on a community.

On the other hand, when you as an educator succeed in helping a student become independent, develop communication or in any way become more independent, you are potentially saving your community millions of dollars.

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