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Legal Developments Highlight Importance of Inclusion

Last year saw a number of important legal developments highlighting the importance of inclusion and evidence based curricula.

In August 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, with jurisdiction over school districts in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan, ruled in the important IDEA case L.H. v. Hamilton County Department of Education, upholding the importance of inclusion under federal law.

In 2013, L.H. was attending Normal Park Elementary School in Hamilton County, Tennessee. He was in a general education classroom which contained students both with and without disabilities. Then the County determined that L.H. would be better off in a comprehensive development classroom (“CDC”) – one where he would be segregated from non-disabled students for much of the day. L.H.’s parents objected citing the IDEA’s requirement that every student has the right to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

L.H.’s parents removed him from the setting and placed L.H. in a private Montessori school.  The Court held that the CDC was not an appropriate setting and ordered the County to reimburse L.H.’s parents for the cost of the private placement.  In reaching its decision the Court noted that the law prefers inclusion and that a student may only be segregated if (1) the student would not benefit from a general education environment; (2) the benefits of the general education setting would be far outweighed by the benefits of the special education setting; or (3) the student would be a disruptive force in a general education classroom.

More recently, in November 2018, the State of Ohio entered into a settlement resolving a class action lawsuit alleging that Ohio’s 11 largest districts failed to adequately serve students with disabilities.  Under the settlement, the districts have committed to improve literacy instruction, provide enhanced support to teachers serving students with disabilities, adopt evidence-based behavior support strategies, improve inclusion opportunities, and provide improved vocational services at the high-school level.  This settlement will be implemented over the next five years.

Schools and districts must recognize the importance of inclusion, supported by evidence-based strategies, in meeting their legal obligations. Experience tells us that the benefits of inclusion are significant and that with proper training behavior strategies can minimize disruptive behavior and make an inclusive setting the preferred environments for students with and without disabilities. Contact us at consulting@ccde.org to develop a training or consulting program that fits your needs.

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You can’t get through it unless you get to it.

You can’t get through it unless you get to it.

This simple phrase is a staple in our approach to behavior. What does this mean? Certainly we are working to help our students extinguish their behaviors that are harmful or exclusionary. This long process can involve a lot of work, both for the student and the adult.

There are no short cuts.

It might not be fun.

But we can not stop at the point where it is uncomfortable. We all have developed new skills in our lives that were hard to do at first. We have mastered some skills through work and practice. It is the same for our students. They can learn. They will learn. We all want the process to be short-lived, but what we are changing may be deeply rooted for the student; often times, we see behavior because it has served a purpose for them. It may get them what they want. It may get them out of what they do not like. In some way, it has been effective for them.

When addressing behavioral hurdles, we need to meet the challenge head on. We want to clearly let the student know “This way that has worked for you in the past is not acceptable.” We are asking them to be socially appropriate. We are asking them to communicate a want or need in a way that does not include those previously learned ways, ways that we may have reinforced (consciously or unconsciously). What we don’t want to do is placate or give them what they want without communicating- in other words, hoping we keep them happy enough so that we never see behavior. This cannot be sustained by the adult and certainly has not taught the child a better skill.  While we may be able to keep a child happy and therefore avoid difficult behaviors, the world will not be as kind. The most loving thing we can do is prepare children to face disappointments and challenges and roadblocks, rather than try to shield them from the hard things. This is true whether your child is typically developing or is on the Autism Spectrum.

We believe in all children’s ability to learn a better way to express themselves and get what they want or need. We will teach them a better way to take a step forward. Real life expectations in the classroom lead to handling similar situations at home and in public in more socially appropriate way. So, with behavior, we set a high expectation and then help the student be appropriate within that framework- not with a separate expectation for a student with Autism. Sometimes, we see behavior getting worse before it gets better. This is expected as you are asking them to change not just an external behavior, but an internal understanding of how the world works.

You may need to find a team to help you. It is confusing to the child to pick and choose when certain behaviors are acceptable and when they are not. It is hard for the adult to try to go at it alone. Find support and use that support, whether it is for the child or for you. Consistency is the key, and a team approach helps you achieve that consistency.

Don’t give up.

Through all of the challenges thrown at your child and you or your student and you, remember your job. Help them know what is acceptable. See the challenging behavior they have and work to help them do better. Push through the times that are tough or uncomfortable. Believe that they can and believe that you are being helpful. We take the steps with them, but we always have a goal of them being able to take steps on their own.

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Character, Leadership, and Immersion

-How do we eliminate bullying with so many students from different backgrounds and abilities?

-How do we teach students to embrace students of all abilities as members of the class?

-How do we make sure teachers and students alike respect and appreciate everyone for their unique gifts and talents?

One key difference that makes the Academic and Social Immersion Model successful is the complete integration of character education and leadership development for all of our students. “Character Education” and “Leadership” are buzz words in today’s society. They catch our attention as attributes we desire to be present in our daily lives. However at Oakstone, these words are much more than just buzz words. Character and leadership are foundational.  

Oakstone aims to educate the whole child through quality individualized education- understanding that children are unique and education is not one size fits all. So teaching character education in an environment that is already going beyond academics to cultivate social skills and hold students to high accountability standards comes very naturally to us.

At Oakstone we desire to ask and answer the question, “What DO our students need to learn to succeed in the 21st century?” And we want to consider not only academic success, but personal and social success as well. We know that traits like honesty, respect and responsibility will make all the difference in future relationships and opportunities for our students.

For the character education at Oakstone we have adopted the character traits of: Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship, following the Josephson Institute’s Pillars of Character model. Students learn these words starting in preschool and elementary through monthly themed activities, assemblies and service projects. In middle school and high school students began a series of 3 character education classes- each class serving as a building block with goals and objectives unique to the developmental age of the students.

For the leadership component at Oakstone we developed our student leadership teams which are comprised of students in grades 3-12 who are passionate about their school and serving their fellow students. These students serve as ambassadors for the student body by bringing ideas and concerns from the student body to faculty and administration.

A few of the projects student leadership has implemented the past few years include: peer tutoring, annual school dances, new student ice cream social, purchasing the school mascot costume and flag as well as the gaga pit and 4 square in the air activities for the socialization courtyard, rewriting the middle school/high school’s dress code and technology policies and spearheading the adoption of 1:1 Chromebooks for grades 5th-12th.

Finally, and in many ways most importantly, character is a part of every employee’s annual evaluation. The adults are expected to model and lead by example for the students in areas including respect, citizenship, and trustworthiness. Not many adults can embrace feedback in these areas, but our teachers do because they set that tone and establish the culture. As an Academic and Social Immersion Model we require leadership from the top down in these vital areas.

Without character education and leadership development, we would not see the results we see, especially in the middle and high school classes. These pieces are at the core of not only the definition of Academic and Social Immersion, but the success of it as well!