Thursday, December 9, 2010

Call it What it Is

Part of a school's job is making sure that all children are receiving an appropriate education. In our district this conversation usually begins at the school level at one of the daily team meetings where all the teachers on a team discuss student concerns, usually with the counselor present. From there we have a series of standard interventions-- a parent conference, after school study hall, meeting with the counselor, or daily point sheet are a few examples of these.

If a student continues to be unsuccessful, we may formalize our concerns at either an Intervention Assistance Team meeting or even a Special Education Student Study to see if educational, psychological, and/or medical testing might be in order. If it is, an Eligibility meeting is held to consider all the results and to determine if the student is eligible for special education services and an individualized education plan. The committee who makes that recommendation consists of the student's parents, a special education coordinator, the director of guidance, the student's guidance counselor, the school psychologist, the school social worker, a general education teacher, and a special education teacher. A majority of the committee must agree that the student qualifies for special ed, and the parents must agree to opt in for services.

Students are found eligible for different reasons-- a learning disability, "OHI" or Other Health Impaired (which usually means Attention Deficit Disorder, but could be another physical issue as well), a cognitive disability, or an emotional disability. It is this last one, an ED label, which sometimes presents a challenge to some committee members. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive a stigma attached to such a designation, even though it has well-defined criteria, one of which is that the student's lack of control over his or her emotions is negatively impacting his or her academic progress. Still some people hesitate to apply that category of disability to a student on the grounds that it's a negative label.

I would argue that their attitude is contributing to the misconception that there is something wrong with kids who might be ED. They are perpetuating the stigma by their hesitancy to consider that label as nothing more than an objective condition that a student is struggling with and should be supported through. If you need help, you should get it, and no one should try to protect you from that.

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