Part I – History in Public School Education of Individuals with Special Needs Disabled students and Special Education are complicated topics fraught with emotions and fears among students and their families. This is due, in part, to the tainted history of Special Education and the treatment of disabled students in the United States. Historically, many children with disabilities were sent to live in institutions and were most likely not provided with any education (US Office of Special Education Programs, Archived). If assessments were performed, they tended to be inaccurate which led to labeling that was inappropriate and this meant that children were not given the proper and appropriate education for their specific educational needs. Students with disabilities were also educated in settings away from all other non-disabled children. They had very little to no contact with these other students and were isolated from them even during times that are social, such as lunch time (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 181). Prior to legislation that required children with disabilities be educated in public schools, parents were forced to either teach their children at home or pay for private school which could be highly expensive. Today, students with disabilities attend school with students without disabilities. For a large part of our history, individuals with disabilities were hidden from the public. Children and youth with disabilities have historically been treated unequally in public education in our country (Yell, Rodgers, & Lodge Rodgers, p.219). In our society, many groups such as, people with disabilities, have been discriminated against. It is sometimes difficult for the dominant group to realize that they have benefitted and received privileges that other groups have not, including in our schools (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 22). This is due, in part, to the dominant culture in this country. Culture is a set of common beliefs or ideas, symbols and interpretations of these beliefs and symbols (Lee, p. 143). Culture defines who we are as a society and influences our lives in significant ways. It essentially determines how we think about issues and people in our lives and in society as a whole (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 3). Our culture often defines how we interact with others, including those similar to ourselves and those different from ourselves. The American culture has traditionally been one of perceived or achieved excellence. We strive to be the smartest, fastest, and wealthiest. People with disabilities, often times, can not check some of those boxes. This has caused our society to historically, at best, ignore and at worst, shun, deny or actually harm, those individuals with disabilities.  Of course, when we discuss  our culture we must also discuss our cultural bias. In a later section, I will discuss bias as it pertains to students with special needs in the classroom and school. Part II – State and Federal Laws and Programs Today it is a given that our children attend school from the age of 5 or 6 years old. We know that it is not legal to keep our children out of school. To do so would mean that a parent or guardian could face legal action by the school district or state, but this compulsory attendance did not begin until the 1800’s when Rhode Island became the first state to pass a law that required children to attend school. Other states followed suit, but despite these laws, children with disabilities were often still excluded from attending public school (Yell, Rogers & Lodge Rogers, p. 220). In fact, the exclusion of these students was upheld in court in 1893, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that students who were “weak in mind”, were bothersome to other students or who could not take care of themselves, could be excluded from public school (Yell, Rogers & Lodge Rogers, p. 220). After the Massachusetts ruling, other states also began to enact policies that allowed school districts and schools to legally expel students who they felt were “feeble minded” and could not benefit from education. Even students drooling was stated as being “nauseating” to teachers, so he was not allowed to attend his public school. The contradictions of the court rulings are evident. The laws required students to attend school and stated that public education was right for children, yet court rulings continued to allow disabled students to be prevented from attending school and even expelled from school after attending for several years based on a disability or perceptions that staff had regarding the student (Yell, Rogers & Lodge Rogers, p.221). During this time, parents and other advocacy groups who were aligned with the Civil Rights Movement, began to fight back against these rulings and many cases of litigation were brought into the courts. The rights of students with disabilities were hard fought. They paralleled those of many ethnic minorities in our country. As court decisions began to come down in favor of those minority groups, advocates for children with disabilities began to use these Case Laws to fight for the rights of these students in court (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 177).Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) in 1975. This law was meant to help state and local governments support the needs of children with disabilities and their families. It provides guidance to states to help students with disabilities access public education and provides some funding to support special education and other services related to it. States must comply with the law in order to receive the funding (Bateman & Cline, p. 8). This law was the game changer for students with disabilities and their families. Before this law was passed, there were only a few school districts in the United States who were providing public education to students with disabilities. It was actually legal to refuse to allow these students an education (Bateman & Cline, p. 9). Public Law 94-142 is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA which was initially authorized in 1990 and most recently reauthorized in 2004 as the Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act or IDEIA which re-defined a student with a disability, and also included traumatic brain injury and other health impairments, as well as, specific learning disabilities and requires states to provide a “free and appropriate public education” (Bohlin, et. al., pg. 83).Disabled students now attend school, as often as possible, in the same classrooms as their classmates without disabilities. This is beneficial to both the disabled and non-disabled student. The student with a disability is able to observe other students in an academic, as well as, social setting. As was stated in the article, a young student named Hector, improved his behaviors by participating in a small group setting with non-disabled peers (US Office of Special Education Programs, Archived). Over 30 years of legislation and amendments have occurred since the law was passed in 1975. Interpreting and implementing these laws can be problematic. Congress has mandated that the provisions in the laws are followed, however, school districts struggle, at times, to comply. The funding is not there in many cases and school districts have a difficult time finding the resources to implement the necessary provisions (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 184). This has led to litigation in some cases.As mentioned earlier, for much of our history, children with disabilities were usually kept away from general society. School age children were often living in institutions where their basic needs were minimally met. Before PL 94-142, nearly half of students with disabilities in the United States were not receiving a publicly supported education, and even more were not receiving an education that was appropriate to their unique needs (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 181). After children were properly assessed, many were found to be of an intellect where they could learn and benefit from education tailored to their specific needs.Part III –  Examples of Bias We all know of the curriculum in schools, which entails the lessons and content that is taught in schools. We also have, however, something referred to as the “hidden curriculum”, which is defined as, what is taught outside of that agreed upon curriculum. The hidden curriculum can be an example of bias in our classrooms and schools. It can be slightly or vastly different for each classroom, school, community, state, etc., and can depend also on what part of a city or what part of the country you are from.  It is a set of rules that is assumed that everyone knows, however, it is not explicitly taught to students (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 14). A great challenge that is faced by many students with special needs or disabilities, is one of understanding the complex social interactions and the unspoken rules that go along with those interactions. An example of this would be a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  or Asperger’s, there are of course, other people with disabilities who also struggle with the social interactions that occur at school, but for this example we will look at a student with ASD. One of the most well known characteristics of Autism is difficulty with social and communication skills (Lee, p. 142). It is extremely challenging for the student with ASD or other disability that affects their social skills, to survive in a classroom or school setting where they do not understand the unwritten rules. Most students who are typically developing begin to understand the rules by watching and listening to the teacher and other students. They start to interpret what they see and hear and put together the rules on their own. This is extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible for the student with ASD. A student who is challenged by social cues, needs to be explicitly taught about these nuances and how they are expected to respond in the classroom and in the school itself. It does not benefit any student, especially those with ASD or another disability, to keep the hidden curriculum a secret. These students  need to be taught how to behave and respond to others in order to be successful in the classroom and in society (Lee, p. 142). At times, as individuals or as a society, we tend to believe that if someone has a disability, they are unable to understand most things and can not even be taught. This is far from the truth. Many students with ASD, for example, are highly intelligent and able to learn most concepts, whether they are  academic or social. I interviewed by cousin regarding her daughter who is on the Autism spectrum. Her daughter was reading 6th grade level books when she was 4 years old. She, like many  individuals on the spectrum, can memorize almost anything she sees or reads. She is currently a senior in High School and despite her high intellect, she has at times, been failing her classes. According to my cousin, her daughter’s teachers had very low expectations of her. They did not understand what she needed in order to be successful in their class and did not attempt to teach her in the way she needed to learn regarding the expectations they had. For example, there was an assignment where the students presented in front of the class. My cousin’s daughter did not do presentations in front of the class because it caused her so much anxiety that she would leave the class and run away. In her IEP, it was stipulated that she could do the presentation in front of the teacher only. This was fine with the teacher but he did not explicitly tell her to do so. He assumed she would come to him to schedule that presentation and did not remember that she needed an accomodation to complete the assignment. She did not think to ask him about it and when the presentations began, she watched, but did not ever give hers. Her grade suffered because of this and my cousin did not know that her daughter had missed this assignment. Eventually, she asked the teacher and told her daughter that she needed to ask the teacher to schedule a time to do the presentation for the teacher (E. Schmeltzer, personal communication, November 18, 2017). This is an example of bias on the part of the teacher. He thought that she needed to think to come and speak with him as he though any 17 years old student, should know to do. However, she is not any 17 year old student. She is a student with Asperger’s and needed an accommodation (Cooper, 2017).Part IV – Policy, Professional Analysis and RecommendationsI plan to teach in Special Education. I am also the parent of a disabled 17 year old boy who has participated in Special Education since the age of 3. The implications for classroom practice are varied. My own son has benefited from the practice of “mainstreaming” for part or most of the day in a classroom with nondisabled students. He has improved his speech, his impulse control and his ability to work together with other students. His academic and social skills have continued to improve due to his access to the regular education classroom. It has helped him to have a sense of belonging at his schools and in his classrooms (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 199). I have attended countless IEP meetings, assessments, Occupational, Physical and Speech Therapy sessions. Much of the sessions took place in our home from the time our son was 4 months old until he began Special Day preschool at the age of three. I think school districts are morally, as well as, legally obligated to implement IDEA, however that may need to be done in creative ways and may be impossible to fully implement. This underfunded mandate of the federal government is extremely unfair to school districts and children with disabilities and their families. A discussion about the government funding of public education is a long and arduous one and has been a political issue for decades. School districts have no control over the federal government and its low prioritization for public school funding. They must work with what they have and creatively solve the problems that they face with implementation of IDEA. The fact that we have fewer people entering the teaching profession and even fewer entering Special Education, is an obstacle to achieving this implementation, as well. This makes the requirement that educational staff be, “highly qualified teachers”, very difficult to meet (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 182). I do think that excluding children with disabilities from a general education placement solely based on their disability, is morally wrong, just as excluding students based on their race is morally wrong. A blanket exclusion does not serve anyone well, each case should be decided on an individual basis. The decision to exclude children from being fully included in a general education setting must be made by the team of parents and school employees who are part of the IEP process and must follow the guidelines set out in IDEA. Exclusion from a general education placement can not be solely based on the fact that a student has a disability. Again, we must go back to the best placement for the individual student in the least restrictive environment (Gollnick & Chinn, p. 180). As I saw in the video, Jessica Parks Surmounts Her Obstacles (2003, 2:15), Jessica, whom did not have her arms, was able to accomplish all that her non-disabled peers did in school. If she had been excluded from inclusion in a general education classroom, that would have been wrong and not the best placement for Jessica.References(2004, April 22). Against The Odds. Retrieved from: http://www.tvguide.com/tvshows/primetime/episode-4129444/191723/(2003, February 7). Jessica Parks Surmounts Her Obstacles. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0hE6WRTA0wArtiles, A. J., Kozleski, E. B., Trent, S. C., Osher, D., & Ortiz, A. (2010). Justifying and explaining disproportionality, 1968-2008: A critique of underlying views of culture. Exceptional Children, 76(3), 279-299.Bateman, D., & Cline, J. L. (2016). A teacher’s guide to special education. ASCD.Bohlin, L., Durwin, C. C., & Reese-Weber, M. (2016). Educational Psychology. United States:       McGraw-Hill Education.Cooper, T. (2017) Retrieved from: https://theeducatorsroom.com/time-address-teacher-bias-special-education-students/Gollnick, D. M., & Chinn, P. C. (2013). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J: Pearson.Lee, H. J. (2010). Cultural factors related to the hidden curriculum for students with autism and related disabilities, Intervention in School and Clinic, 46(3), 141-149.U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. (Archived). Twenty-Five years of progress in educating children with disabilities through IDEA. Retrieved from: https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/leg/idea/history.pdf.Yell, M. L., Rogers, D., & Lodge Rodgers, E. (1998). The legal history of special education.       Remedial & Special Education, 19(4), 219-229.http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/about/history.htmhttp://www.specialednews.com/

Author