Teachers struggle to deal with students who may be disruptive. “What most teachers complain about is that they have problem children and nobody helps them,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, citing ratio of students to social workers that was more than 1,000 to 1 in the district.
According to the Civil Rights Project analysis, Chicago schools suspended nearly 63 percent of their black students with disabilities in 2009-10.
This year, the Chicago Public Schools adopted plans to reduce suspensions and deal with behavioral issues up front. “I am a strong believer in limiting mandatory disciplinary actions that remove a child from their classroom and school, which in many cases ultimately causes more harm than good for those students,” Jean-Claude Brizard, chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, said in a statement.
SFUSD is also adopting such plans. These plans will require an unprecedented level of communication and support between teachers, administrators, counselors, inclusion specialists, OT providers, parents, and students. They're also going to cost money.
Given current school budgets and the years of unending racial disparities in education, I don't think teachers are wrong to be suspicious.
For instance: I have been told by a high-level special education professional that I cannot request any kind of OT screen - even with parents' strong accord - unless the child already has an IEP. I have received requests for assessment from parents that were declined because they weren't written "appropriately" - for instance, because a parent asked for "help" instead of "assessment". I have requested simple material support (like a seat wedge or something for the really, really bouncy child) and been told to write a Donors Choose grant to get it.
As a Kindergarten teacher, suspension is a rare thing indeed. Still, I'm a professional and I take a long view. I can identify that children need supports in Kindergarten that will help them successfully access their education. (I can also identify that I am not reaching a particular child and I don't know what would help - and spend months begging for a quick professional observation. So I read a lot of books.) By providing these supports now, we're taking care of future problems, just like Brizard proposes. Yet somehow the support teachers need too often fails to appear. And that child who was really bouncy in Kindergarten didn't access the curriculum, and he or she gets further behind every year, while also becoming no less bouncy yet far less engaged, interested, or inclined to enjoy school.
Last year, I had a lot of interaction with the Special Education department. While they are all hardworking professionals, the amount of incorrect information I heard was disconcerting (I now have a giant PDF of Special Education law on my computer at home so I can do my own fact-checking and cite law and code as needed). Also, some of those professionals occasionally evinced that certain disdain for teachers that comes from too many years out of the classroom. For instance, one of them asked me if I had tried a certain strategy; I drew the specialist's attention to the extensive logs that identified that strategy in use, with comments and adjustments made. This person then apologized vaguely, commenting that very few Kindergarten teachers ever try such things.
So between the attitudes toward classroom teachers and the fact that front-end proactive measures require front-end proactive cash, I wonder how well these strategies will work out on the ground. I am at once excited - success would have a huge impact on racial disparities in education, I believe - and also suspicious.