Tag Archives: Special Education

Transitioning: Disabilities and the Minimum Wage

7 Jun

My yearly post comes courtesy of some interesting discussions with my varied Facebook friends about economic policies and specifically about the minimum wage.  Having two teenage sons has definitely helped shed some light on the state of things as far as jobs and the economy as well as my own background, going back to the days on the farm.  I can try to talk about the economics of the minimum wage to my friends, but there might be more power in simply sharing a more personal (and maybe simple) example.

Two years ago, I wrote a bit about efforts to get my oldest involved in beekeeping.  It’s still a good read, and reveals the plight of many parents and individuals with disabilities.  Namely as we approach next year with him as a senior, we are still grappling about how we can arrange things where he might be able to take care of himself or at least be much more independent.  And the fact that there is very little out there for individuals with disabilities.  This is an update on that post plus a little lesson in practical economics.

My oldest still has no problem mowing the lawn and still looks forward to doing and making a little money.  He and his younger brother both mow now, switching off between my lawn and my neighbor’s lawn.  I pay $15 for my lawn, provided they pay for the gas or $10 if I have to pay for it.  My neighbor pays them $20 for a slightly smaller lawn.  Right away, you can see where they might be more likely to want to mow HER lawn than mine.  More money for less work.  But it’s with my lawn mower and mostly my gas.  I told them if they saved and bought their own mower, I’d gladly pay $20 but they haven’t been too keen on that.  They haven’t quite grasped the concept of capital investments, yet.

When my youngest (more neurotypical) son mows, he can do either lawn in less than 90 minutes, so he is making about minimum wage or maybe a little better.  However, when my oldest mows the lawn he will typically take 4-5 hours!  And he uses a lot more gas.  If I was running a lawn mowing business, you could see what the problem would be if I had to pay minimum wage.  One of my employees would be making me a little money while the other one would be costing me!  It has little to do with the quality of work as much as simple productivity.

And don’t get me started on government required licensing.

My oldest is not as interested in keeping bees as I am.  He’s just not into the bees.  He hasn’t been stung as far as I know, so it’s not that.  However, he is happy to participate in other aspects of the business that don’t necessarily involve wearing a bee suit.  When it comes to extracting honey, he enthusiastically turns the crank on the extractor and watches the frames spin around.  And recently he was happy to nail together and paint some hive boxes that I had ordered.   The price difference between an unassembled box and one that is assembled and painted is about $5 per box, so I offered to split the difference with him @ $2 per box, which he was happy to do.  In fact he was happier with this than mowing the lawn.  And he did a fairly decent job, not using too many  extra nails.  I wasn’t too concerned about the quality of the paint job as the bees wouldn’t care as long as he didn’t get any on the inside.

My patio is over run with bee equipment! One of the hives can be seen in the background

This was a job I probably could have done myself in an hour or so, but it’s a bit tedious so I was happy to let him have at it.  It took him probably 6 hours over 2 days.   But he was able to do this job independently and I wasn’t in a huge hurry as the bees are still filling out their top boxes.  But if he would have been working for someone else who had to pay him minimum wage, the cost would have exceeded the cost of simply ordering them already painted and assembled.  And we’re talking a $7.25 minimum wage.  There’s serious national discussion about raising the minimum to $15 per hour which would drop him from almost any serious contention for competitive  job opportunities even if he acquired enough skill to double his productivity!

There actually is a small provision that allows people with disabilities to be employed below the minimum wage under the Fair Labor Standard Act (FLSA) of 1938   The preceding link is actually an interesting read as it also covers exemptions relating to youth emplyment and agricultural employment as well as casual babysitting.

The employment numbers for persons with disabilities are bleak, at best, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics:

In 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65.0 percent.

Here’s and interactive chart that breaks it down a bit.


No serious discussion of employment for individuals with disabilities and this special provision from the minimum wage would be complete without discussing its poster-child, Goodwill Industries.  In 2013, this organization came under fire because it was reported that they were paying individuals as low as $.22 per hour while Goodwill International CEO Jim Gibbons made $729,000 in salary and deferred compensation.   To many people who were making below minimum wage, that news came as a slap in the face and change.org circulated a petition in order to pressure Goodwill to pay its workers minimum wage.

Goodwill issued their response to this petition where they outline why this provision is important as well as giving recommendations for insuring better compliance with those provisions.  You can also read a shorter but perhaps more poignant response here.    Which delves deeper into the wheelhouse where I presently work– with individuals with multiple severe disabilities.  As I began this post saying, the opportunities for these families are few and far between.   One of the complaints from some of those who opined the loudest in favor of doing away with the minimum wage exemption was that they felt trapped within the Goodwill system because there was no other place to go.  But if Goodwill was eliminated– then what?

The solution would seem to be more competition and oddly enough the publicity surrounding how much the CEO’s and executives were making might actually help if the publicity was less toxic and more helpful.  If another company moved into the area, they might be able to offer more services or higher wages and a six figure salary might be enough incentive to bring a savvy entrepreneur into the market.   But not if they are going to be vilified for making good money for doing good work.

Goodwill is a voluntary organization in all respects.  This means individuals and families can choose whether or not this is the right choice for them, and if they find another and more lucrative option, they are certainly encouraged to take advantage of those opportunities.  But with over 80% of people with disabilities who have ZERO employment, we need to be looking at ways to expand those opportunities instead of regulating those very few opportunities out of existence.

Finally here’s a short primer on how the minimum wage does or does not hurt workers:



Preventable IEP Anxiety

7 May

I don’t have any IEP’s to write this year, which might be the best and only good thing about being underemployed.  Well…actually I do have one IEP to write; my son’s.

And this year it has been enough of a headache to make up for not having 10 others to write and schedule.  This one has been rescheduled at least 3 times.  Right before the original IEP date, I submitted a letter of parent concern that sort of threw his case manager into a mild panic.  I admit, that this sort of violated about half of my own rules for avoiding the long and ugly IEP meetings.  So I was not too concerned about delaying the meeting a week to enable people to get their legs back under them, and to address my concerns in a thoughtful manner.  But then another delay ensued and finally she wanted to delay until after the CRCT results.  The CRCT, for those who don’t know, is Georgia’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test, which is the state-wide high stakes test.  I decided to go along with this, but each and every time and during each and every communication I asked for exactly the same thing: a draft of the IEP.

And now I am absolutely convinced that failing to receive such a draft in a timely manner is the single greatest cause of preventable stress during IEP season.  This is why it is such a critical part of my aforementioned rules.  Procrastination and surprises do not serve anyone well.  It does not serve teachers well, because they are deciding and writing in a hurry.  It does not serve parents well, because their anxiety mostly comes from not knowing and the fear of the district ambushing them.  It does not serve the system well, because when parents feel ambushed, they tend to become contentious and litigious.  And yet, I witness this time after time after time, year after year after year, the same exact thing.  The worst was when I was the high school representative at a middle school IEP meeting and we were already an hour behind.  We were all in the meeting room, waiting for the case manager. When I asked the SLP where she was, I got an eye roll “She’s upstairs, writing the IEP draft.”

If you are a teacher with an IEP tomorrow morning and have not completed the draft yet, you should consider another career.  You are probably already on some sort of blood pressure medication.  Being a special education teacher is stressful. But this is one source of stress in your life that you can minimize by simply moving your own deadlines up a week.  I used to be like you.  I would wait and then scramble to get my drafts done, and then worried and ended up with all sorts of mistakes as I hurried and rushed.  I finally had enough and began writing my drafts further ahead of the actual meeting dates and got them to parents over a week in advance.  And guess what happened to that stress?  It disappeared.  And here is why:

Being a parent of a child in special education also consists of a stress, only this is one that rarely ever sleeps.  Although I knew this first-hand, it took me time to translate that into a practice that actually minimized worry for the parents as well as myself.  Having a draft in their hands a week in advance allowed the parents to think and consider what we were doing.  And it instilled a sense of trust. You have no idea how precious that is, until you realize that you have attained it universally and fully.  And it shortened my meetings by almost hour.  Parents could talk about what THEY wanted, because we had agreed on most things ahead of time.  Most of the heat fell on the itinerant providers who failed to submit their reports and recommendations in advance.  They were also procrastinators.

Having a draft written also diminished the effects of having to reschedule meetings.  I HATED rescheduling, but on the few occasions where it was absolutely necessary, it did not impact me significantly because I already had the draft written and distributed to the parent.  I used any extra time to talk to the parent some more, making sure everything was okay and it was just the way they wanted it.

It took some SERIOUS arm twisting to get an advanced draft this year, even though it should have been completed 2 months ago.  And what I got was something that was barely written at all, with no mastery or goals and objectives.  This means that this is going to be a very long and drawn-out meeting because we have to hammer out goals and objectives.  Fortunately I had already done some work on a few that I wanted, but I’m seeing some other concerns that have come up that will have to be addressed.

I’m going to challenge all special education teachers to set a goal to get their IEP drafts completed 5 days in advance of the meeting and get them in the hands of the parents at least 3 days ahead of time.  Of course it is a little late for most of you this year, but if you take the 5 day challenge I guarantee you will lower your own stress as well as the stress level of the parents.

It’s official!

28 Jul

Today was the first “Official” day of preplanning, and we started off with our annual county SpEd meeting which lasted the entire morning. It’s always nice to see all the teachers, young and old. It’s really the only time that ever happens. I didn’t happen to see any of the other SID/PID teachers but did manage to see a few EX SID/PID teachers.

So many changes in leadership! All the way up and down the chain, there are gobs of changes, which means breaking in an entirely new cadre of people. Most of the new folks aren’t really new so much as promoted from the teaching ranks. For the first time in a long time we’ll have a special education administrator who has actually taught special education. In fact, that is a first for the past 10 years of my career.

I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I am considering trying for some sort of leadership certification. The state has just made the process a lot more difficult, so I’m just considering it for the moment. Actually, just about anything looks appealing. My class roster keeps expanding, courtesy of “school choice.” As it stands now, things are untenable given the staff that I’m assigned. We’re over run with both severity and numbers. I’m not sure how 4 people handle 6 wheelchairs plus a couple other kids who tend to wander off.

In other news, Percy is counting the days until school starts and Thomas is trying to enjoy all the summer he can before he has to go back. The kids go back Aug. 3rd.

Thank You Questar!

18 Nov
Today, one of the assistant principals came in and handed me an envelope that contained a survey from Questar . For anyone who doesn’t know, Questar is the company responsible for scoring the Georgia Alternate Assessment (GAA). He wanted to know when I could have it done, and I told him maybe Friday. He said he needed it by tomorrow. Thing is, our GAA’s are also due tomorrow! This looked like just one more piece of worthless paperwork associated with the GAA, which already has dubious value.
I opened it up and looked at it, and suddenly it became a bit more of a cathartic exercise that I thought. I was able to fully vent my spleen upon those vile people who were intimately connected to this process that has so vexed me these past few years. Much of it was a Likert-type scale asking how I felt my students had benefitted from the GAA process, with 1 being the least and 4 being the most. That whole section was pretty much a ‘1’. Another section asked about administrative support. That scored about a ‘2’. They did give us leave time the first year, but we’re getting no extra time this year to do this stuff. We’re on our own and the schedule is tighter than ever with shorter deadlines. Administrative support amounts to 1/2 day of training, some ink cartridges, some card stock and a few meetings and deadlines. No regular education teachers are collecting the data at our school, which was one item scored on the survey.
Somewhere they got the idea that the GAA was supposed to revolutionize our teaching and the acheivement of our students. Actually, it has made some changes. The daily living skills and vocational skills are pretty much crowded out because they do not support any academic standards at the 11th grade level. Those goals are no longer a significant part of the IEP. In fact, there seems to be a full scale charge away from any vocational skills in the high school curriculum at all. While some of the content of my teaching has been more diversified, the relevance has mostly disappeared. Eleventh grade college prep standards mean very little to students who have IQ’s in the single digits. They asked how the GAA contributed towards greater student acheivement and learning. I was able to express to them that the GAA has NOTHING to do with student acheivement, learning or comprehension. There are many ways to fail the GAA by making it uinscorable. None of those ways have anything to do with student acheivement. Actual student acheivement is the LEAST prominent metric in the scoring of this “assessment.” It is all about meeting NCLB’s mandates without having to have any actual substance. It’s more of a test of a teacher’s endurance and gamesmanship than actual teaching.
One section did ask what benefits, if any, I had realized from participating in the GAA:
It has made me more politically aware and active in working toward the repeal of NCLB. It has also motivated me to research and consider other career options.
So instead of taking a day or two to complete the survey, it took me about 20 minutes to pound it out. It felt pretty good to get some of that out to those people. It would be nice to know any meaningful results from this survey. Since we’re right in the midst of the first collection period, I can imagine lots of Georgia teachers taking this opportunity to express their displeasure. I’m not sure if every teacher doing a GAA had to do a survey (I don’t think so) but rest assured, I was very candid and sharp in my remarks and comments.
I don’t blame Questar for their abominable assessment. They are simply providing a service that states need in order to comply with an abominable federal law. My students happen to be nonstandard students and there is no reasonable way to standardize them. Therefore, this unreasonable insult will have to do until control of education can be rescued from the federal lunatics and returned to the state asylum where it belongs.
You can also see a rant about the GAA I filmed and posted last night on my TeacherTube channel (link to video).

Talking about next year’s calendar

15 Nov

Our local school system is presently considering a new calendar for the 2009-2010 school year. The school system is the largest employer in our county and that calendar can affect a lot of things for good or ill. Many other activities and events within the community revolve around the school activities. Every parent and teacher has a stake in this decision and it may turn out to be a point of major contention. These decisions will also have a significant impact on students with disabilities and their families. Here’s a run down of our choices and the issues around them including pros and cons (at least as I see it).

Calendar #1 – The current balanced calendar: This is called a balanced calendar because the summer break is much shorter that what other school systems have. It is not “year-round” school by any stretch, but it does balance the year out a bit better. We start in late July (and are among the earliest schools to start in the country) and end around memorial day. In addition to the normal holiday and spring breaks, we also get a week-long break in October and another week-long break in February. We also get a full week for Thanksgiving and the semester ends at the Christmas break that lasts two weeks. The advantage of this system is having those breaks throughout the year. The fall break is especially nice as most schools do not have this week off. That means one can get great travel deals and travel in general is less of a hassle. The shorter summer also means that regression is less of an issue. It is still an issue, but it is less than if we were off for an extra month. For me, this is my choice because after a few weeks I feel the itch to get back to teaching. I like my breaks more often and shorter. That is my own personal bias.

For students with disabilities, a shorter break is actually better. Extended school year is still offered, but it is less of an issue with a 6 week summer. There are more frequent disruptions, though, throughout the year. This is a mixed bag depending on your point of view. For my son, he really enjoys his breaks but if they are too long we can get more behavior problems. He also get a certain amount of fatigue after being in school several weeks straight without a break which also results in behavior problems. In general, the shorter, more frequent breaks work for us. When we first did this calendar, a lot of parents complained about finding childcare. However, they did manage to make the adjustment and I think most employees ans students like this calendar. The state does not, though. The state of Georgia feels rushed with our early start to score tests. Students who did not pass their standardized tests (CRCT) can take a make-up test during the summer, but there is a real rush to score them in time for the start of the new year. Many of these students will be relying on those scores to advance to middle or high school. Many businesses also do not like the short summer as they believe it shortens the tourist season and decreases spending and hurts the economy. That argument, to me, is totally weak as the spending/traveling economy is balanced out over the year instead of all crammed in the summer. Shorter breaks might even help the Georgia economy as families may choose to travel within Georgia since longer breaks afford more time to travel out of state than shorter ones.

Option # 2 – Mid-August Start Date: This calendar starts a week after the calendar above and eliminates the October and February breaks. It also provides a few more 3-day weekends. The advantage to this calendar is that the summer is a week longer and there is less disruption caused by week-long breaks. Scattering more 3-day weekends helps make up for the loss of the longer breaks. For students with disabilities, this might not be a bad calendar as it is does minimize disruptions to the routine while providing frequent breaks. It does stretch the summer out an extra week, which may seem like an eternity to many parents of these youngsters! This would probably be my second choice among the four choices. I do really like the fall break and I like the shorter summer, which this calendar works against, but it is the least radical departure of what we’re doing now. The state like this one better than my first choice for the reasons listed above.

Calendar #3 – Start after labor Day: Out of all the calendars, this is the one I would hate the most, and yet this is the model most school systems in the country use. The idea is to have a longer, more traditional summer. School would not start until the Tuesday after Labor Day. The week-long breaks would be gone and there would be fewer 3-day weekends. Thanksgiving would be a 3 days instead of all week. Second semester would not start until the end of January and school would not end until mid-June! That means no breaks for 3 entire months at the end of the year, when we need them the most! For students with disabilities, the regression factor and fatigue factor become more major issues with this calendar. Extended school year would have to be offered more and for a longer period of time. On the plus side, students attending summer school might get more of a break and teachers might be able to take summer classes. For me, I prefer a “start early, end early” school year. I have done the “end in mid-June” school year before, and was totally spent and exhausted at the end of it. While I’m tired at the end of May now, I couldn’t imagine dragging along for weeks after Memorial Day. And that’s if you don’t have any snow days to make up! Thanks but no thanks.

Option #4 – 4 Day Week: Out of all the option proposed, this one is the most radical, innovative and intriguing. Basically, it would involve attending school Tuesday-Friday for a minimum of one hour longer than the current school day. The school year would be 160 days instead of 180 days but students would actually have more “seat time.”

“Seat time.” That terminology is a huge red flag for me.

The advantages are numerous. First, there is the cost savings just from running buses less often and the cafeteria serving lunches less often. Teacher inservices and workdays would be done on Mondays and involve less schedule disruptions. Students and teachers could do their shopping, banking and other personal business on those days. And I’ve even thought to myself that a 4 day work week might be pretty nice. However, the reality is not the same as the idea. If kids are in school until 4:30, many will be getting on and off the buses in the dark much of the year. By 4:00, many of these kids will be feeling some serious hunger pains from the ever-more-meager lunch portions. And that means most of use teachers will not be leaving until way, way later as we need more daily planning for a longer day.

For students with disabilities, the longer day would be devastating. Fatigue is a constant factor anyway, and that last hour is not going to amount to a full hour’s worth of added learning. Learning is not like factory work, and neither is teaching, The law of diminishing returns will set in and it will amount to a net loss in the long run. For my kids with sever disabilities, we’d be seriously looking at having nap time or something. We’d also be looking at more feeding and changing requirements due to the extra time. If this were a factory or another type of work setting, I’d do it in a second. But not for teaching that requires so much out-of-teaching time in order to prepare. Class time with the students makes up a fraction of the time required to do the job correctly. So those Mondays would hardly be time off. They would be mostly unpaid work days. Nice idea and nice concept, the 4 day work week. But I don’t see it working for me or my kids.

So what we have now looks the best for me and my students. There is a lot of economic and political pressure being brought to bear to get our school district to change.  I can see change eventually coming, but not until the concept of “seat time” changes.

We Need a Better Transition Program

7 Nov
The way NCLB is currently structured and the way schools are really pushing and driving, now is the time to straighten out the transition-to-work emphasis, especially for those students who are older than 18.  I currently have 2 that should have/could have graduated at 18, but they are being served in the public school system in my classroom.  Is the focus on academics the best thing for them at this age?  Certainly not for my students or those with more moderate intellectual disabilities.  The unemployment rate for students with disabilities runs 80-90%, and this is because school systems are ill-equipped for this task.  Public high schools are being pushed and pressured to offered a curriculum that prepares all students for college.  The large vocational programs that were in place in the 1970’s and ’80’s are now long gone and are largely replaced by more academic space or by computer labs. 
So on top of the demands for offering the regular education curriculum for all of my students, I am also having to try to offer some sort of meaningful job/employment services and skills.  These skills are not aligned with the basic core academic standards that I am supposed to be using in order to teach.  The daily living skills are also not aligned to core standards.  And yet, when I submit lesson plans, they must include the state academic standards and must somehow align.  This is the basic problem that NCLB brings to the local school system.  We are not doing that good of a job in the core mission of academics and we are also tasked with teaching some sort of meaningful vocational skills. 
The problem is that the least restrictive environment for a 16 year-old is not the same as it is for a 20 year-old.  And yet, that is exactly how it works in our school system.  Regular students are either working or going to further their education while students with severe disabilities have no other choice but to remain in the same building, in the same classrooms with the same teachers until they age out at 21+ years of age.  Other students have moved on while those with severe disabilities are stuck.  And for all of my training and background I simply do not have the resources to offer everything to everyone all the time.  When NCLB first started impacting those of us who taught this population, there was a lot of talk about aligning our goals with the standards.  We were to just take what we were already doing and find some way to make it fit into the regular curriculum.  Some things work more natural than others.  For instance, speaking and communicating are part of almost every task we do and that easily aligns.  We can count things that approach an algebra standard.  However, when we get into the real meat and guts of a high school academic curriculum, very little fits into what a student with severe disabilities does in the real world and in real life.  Geometry, American literature, physical science and world cultures are not very relevant to them.  That doesn’t mean they can’t learn it or that we can not teach them.  But when a skill has to be taught 500-1500 times in order to be mastered, is that the best use of our time?  To be sure, teaching the core content takes alot of creativity and is sometimes even fun.  It does, in fact, reflect just what their peers are doing, only at a more basic level.
However, at the age of 18, that is no longer true.  Their peers or not still in high school.  They have moved on, and so it is that the students with severe disabilities should also move on.  The present academically focused atmosphere of NCLB arguably serves its purpose but there gets to be a point where is becomes an even more serious impediment and liability.  Students need to be preparing for work outside of school.  They need to get outside of the bell schedule, outside of class changes and out of their desks.  They need to be in a seperate place where the focus is solely on transitioning to work.  The regular high school is not trhe least restrictive environment for students who are 19-21+.  They need to be in a place better suited to train them towards goals that will better serve them outside of the constraints of NCLB.  A student could opt to continue to work towards the regular credentials, of course, but there should also be another option besides spending the entire 7-8 years after middle school in one building, in one room.  This simply turns high school SID/PID rooms into yet another version of institutionalization.  No other population of student gets handled and treated this way.
To that end, we do need to do a better job of including our students in the regular education setting, even if it is for a modified period of time.  At the present time, the opportunity for discimination is entirely too rampant.  I have voiced concern about mainstreaming and inclusion before.  But after waking up to some issues with being discriminated against, I realize that the only way to combat it is to always be around and in everyone’s face.  Plus, for my part, if they won’t let me get away from SID/PID than perhaps I can gain access to the regular education classroom by getting my students placed there.  Suddenly I become a more critical part of the landscape as teachers scramble trying to figure out what to do with these kids.
So two things need to happen: 1.) Make a final drive towards full inclusion 2.) Establish a place for those who graduate from high school to be served until they are aged out, where the emphasis is vocational skills rather than the core standards mandated by NCLB.
It’s really going to be up to parents to make demands toward this, though.  I’m speaking as both teacher and parent but know that as an employee of the school system my voice can more easily be squelched.  Plus this might not be something other parents want, so I’m curious about that.  Should we more fully include those with severe and profound disabilities? 
I will say to you parents that the regular school system is simply too poorly equipped to offer your student the vocational training that he/she really and truly needs.  The mission of the school system is to educate students according to the state curriculum standards.  That will always come first, and everything else is extra, regardless of what is put on the IEP.  We can write lovely goals and a lovely transition plan but that neither compels nor empowers us to carry out those plans.  The IEP is pretty much toothless in areas that do not align with NCLB.  If it does not address the state curriculum, I’m going to have a hard time carrying it out because the law clearly mandates what I’m required to do — teach to the standards.  And I do not have sufficient time to even do that very well.  So guess what happens to those goals, objectives and transition plans?  They are being sidelined.
Under IDEA, all students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE)  However, NCLB has totally changed the definition of “appropriate.”  It is all about the state mandated curriculum and meeting standards of performance mandated by the federal government.  So you may want your child to learn some functional skills like tying his/her shoe, going to the bathroom, do some sorting, assembling or other vocational/life skill tasks.  However we at the school are under serious constraints of time and resources.  I’m going to do my best for the students that I have, and their parents but this is not the same business that it was when I started or even 2 years ago.  The shift has been focused and radical. 

Going to War

30 Oct

I am currently at war with my school over a really silly, stupid issue.  But it does go to a core culture of discrimination against people who have disabilities that is pervasive all through society.  I’ll put off blogging the current battle for a bit but go ahead and blog one that took place during my first year with an administration long gone.


In 2000, I was part of a room with 2 other teachers and 6 paras.  It was a huge operation, but I saw even then how the students and teachers were marginalized to the remote outskirts of school life and culture.  A room that was well-suited for teaching the most severely autistic students (i.e. no windows, mirrors and noise) was taken and given to the next door vocational teacher.  We were told that this was temporary until they got industrial certification.  That was 8 years ago and it was never given back. 


While the health occupations room next door had a fully equipped handicapped accessible bathroom, our students had to go all the way to the other end of the building to use a special restroom by the gym.  The closest wheelchair accessible drinking fountain was on the opposite side of the building from the gym through another set of double doors.  By the time a wheelchair student went through all that to get a drink, he would need another one by the time he/she got back! 


Then we got a student who needed to be changed and catheterized 2x and the only place we had was our little computer room on a computer table.  The administration at the time wanted the school nurse to have no part in catherizing this student.


It was an appalling situation.  I had fire in my gut from just having my own son diagnosed with a form of autism.  So it was that I filed a section 504 complaint against the entire administration listing how they were seemingly and actively discriminating against these students.  And this was done without the considerable knowledge of disabilities and the law that I have today.  But it did get everyone’s attention.  We ended up meeting with the county special education director to address the complaints.  Notably missing from that meeting were the principal and associate principal who were the ones who I had the biggest beef with.  The principal retired and the associate didn’t talk to me for a year.  And that was only after one of my students kicked in the shin.  We ended up making peace once she darkened my door and saw what I was doing and who I was doing it with.  She was a lot more supportive then.


I wish I could say that I was totally victorious in that war.  I had to wage this war for several years.  We got a changing table and a place to catheterize and change our student…6 months after I filed the complaint.  The nurse was available to use whenever I needed simply because I forced the issue and defied administrative directives not to get the nurse involved. 


The room that was taken was never returned, but we no longer require the space.  They remodeled our restroom 3 years later when a parent finally raised a ruckus with considerable support from me.  Accessible drinking fountains were installed about the same time.


My reputation for being willing to fight became widely known and I found I didn’t have to do it is as much.  But I also think I became somewhat complacent.  I was willing to compromise and avoid rocking the boat.  There is something to be said for being politically skilled in order to get what you want. 


At heart, I am generally an avoider when it comes to conflict.  However, if I am forced to fight, I fight to win.  And once my ire gets ignited to the boiling point, I appeal to the William T. Sherman school of thought.  Basically, if I’m going to war, I’m going make conflict with me so unpleasant that you won’t want to do it again very soon. 


And it has been too long since I’ve gone after the culture of discrimination. There really is a rampant culture of discrimination that exists in the larger culture as well as the school culture.  Sometimes government regulations help but often times they hurt.  No Child Left Behind put special emphasis on students with disabilities, however it also stigmatized those students and the teachers who teach them.  If you look at the movement towards paying teachers on the basis of student test scores, this inherently creates a hostile atmosphere against every student who has a disability that slows them down.  And teaching the students that I teach who do not take the standardized tests pretty much means that I can not apply for Georgia’s Master Teacher program.  It is no wonder that students that are slower sense the culture of hostility and drop out.  It is also no wonder that many of the teachers who teach special education follow suit and move on to other fields thus resulting in the highest turnover rate among any group in teaching. 


If there is a problem or a need, it seems to only get addressed when it affects the regular education population.  If you are a special education teacher, you are the one who is going to be moved, marginalized, and put off.  Your classroom will be the most uncomfortable, your supply budget will be the smallest, your computer will be the oldest, your equipment will barely function.    If there is a spare closet, basement, trailer or dungeon, that is where you will be teaching.  It will be somewhere that is unsuitable for the regular kids and yet perfectly fine for you. 


Those of you who have been teaching special education for any length of time know of what I speak.  It happens pretty much all the time, and everywhere I’ve taught, special education has been relegated to the fringe, outskirts and outposts. 


So when I consider this pervasive culture of repression it becomes pretty obvious to me that total integration is the only solution.  The only way to gain equal rights is to be in-your-face militant about it because otherwise people will be all content in their little comfort zones.  Yes, my students are disruptive.  So are all the other students.  But I am sick and tired of us being pushed to the back of the bus every time a disability is inconvenient.  Anyone can teach a “normal” student who is always compliant.  They often learn in spite of what teachers do.  But it’s the exceptional students who demand more expertise and skill.  Those are the students who need to make the most gains and who need the most attention.  The problem is not that my students can’t learn.  The problem is that no one wants to put forth the resources (money) needed to pay someone to teach them the way they need to be taught.  In order to make any sort of gain, they need 1:1 intensive teaching.  And no public school is going to pay for 30 hrs/week of 1:1 instruction for a student with severe disabilities who will only make minimal gains with that sort of dedicated effort.


So what’s the use of total integration?  It’s to help educate the rest of the school population about disabilities and tolerance.  Right now, our non-integration serves to sustain the current climate where discrimination and oppression are the norm.