I saw a quote by Mahatma Gandhi recently which said something like, “The true nature of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” It struck me that this is true of education as well. After a little research, I found out this might actually be a quote by Hubert Humphrey. I don't know who really said it, but I like the concept. We should gauge our success by how we treat our most vulnerable students.
Special education is a challenging and complicated piece of the education puzzle, one that deserves better understanding and more community involvement. I hope I can shed a little light on the subject. At Ukiah Unified School District, we believe that all students are valuable, participatory members of our school community. We value and celebrate each student’s unique talents as we teach and challenge them to become successful, contributing members of our community. Our main goal is independence; we equip our students to be as independent as their ability allows and we prepare them to be adults.
In order to foster a school climate where ALL students are empowered with a strong sense of belonging, our special education program at UUSD practices what is commonly called “Inclusion”. This means students with disabilities learn alongside their non-disabled peers in general education classrooms as much as possible. Inclusion offers many benefits for students including more friends and social networks, peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills, and increased achievement of educational goals.
California provides specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities. This instruction is provided in a variety of settings that allow infants and their families, preschoolers, students, and young adults to be educated with their peers as much as possible; that is, in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Students can be served by Resource Programs, Special Day Classes, Social-Emotional Programs, or Functional Autism Programs. The amount of time that a student receives special education services depends on the needs of the student.
A common question that parents have is what actually qualifies a child for special education services? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act lists 13 different disability categories under which students are eligible for services. These categories include autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, intellectual disabilities, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment.
If a child is determined to have one of the qualifying disabilities, a team meets and an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed to support the student and their particular needs. Then, classroom educators collaborate with special education teachers and paraprofessionals to ensure the plan is successful.
How can you get involved? The Community Advisory Council (CAC) is a great way to learn and get involved. They are a local group that promotes the best possible education for individuals with special needs and provides information and support for their parents and families. If you would like to get involved with CAC, call 800.675.7710 (Inland) or 707.964.9000 (Coast) for more information.
You can always contact your school site administrator for guidance, and the California Department of Education has a wealth of information about special education on their website at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/.