Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don't Lock Up Children with Disabilities

Mrs. C. commented on an important issue affecting children with disabilities. I excerpt her comments below:

We began homeschooling because they locked my SIX YEAR OLD autistic son in a closet on numerous occasions. I wish I were kidding (though it would be a sick joke). It is called a "safe room," and there is NOTHING parents can do about it here in Missouri. In my opinion, it's child abuse.

It's way cheaper to toss a kid in a closet than it is to do that "offer a free and appropriate education" thing. You might go to the national website that fights this practice and give them a good shout-out:

Families Against Restraint and Seclusion

There is NATIONAL LEGISLATION that has passed the house but not the senate that would give schoolchildren the same rights to be free from seclusion (locking into closets) and restraint (tied down to chairs, etc) that you'd get at a mental hospital. Shame that that has to be the standard, but it's a start.

Anyway... my son is not alone in his experiences. Not by a good long way. Children with disabilities are most affected by the lack of good safeguards, as many are not good advocates for themselves and/or they are unable to speak at all.

FedUpMom again: Our schools need to be safe places for all of our children. Many schools have anti-bullying programs, but they almost never confront the possibility that the teacher could be a bully.

I would also like to add that a school that treats one group of children badly is likely not doing very well with any group.


  1. Wow. Your opinion has shifted about 180 degrees from last week when you were opining against public school inclusion.

    Quote from "private v Public"
    FedUpMom- "In a recent post, I described how full inclusion, as practiced by the public schools, is a disservice to above-average kids. By way of contrast, in a private school, any child with serious learning or behavior problems will either not be admitted in the first place, or will be "counseled out" later. What this means in practice is that the floor is higher. The least able child in my daughter's private-school class would have been in the middle of the pack in her public-school class."

  2. What? Just because I think full inclusion isn't working in the public schools, doesn't mean I think it's OK to lock a child with autism in a closet.

    Every child deserves a decent education -- gifted or learning disabled.

    It's a lot easier for my child to get a decent education in a small class of kids who are more or less on the same level. When she was in large classes with full inclusion, she was ignored. That's not fair to her.

    It's also not fair to Mrs. C.'s son to get locked in a closet.

  3. I was commenting on this specific line-
    "I would also like to add that a school that treats one group of children badly is likely not doing very well with any group."

    No ambiguity to me, It's completely opposite of this-

    "In a recent post, I described how full inclusion, as practiced by the public schools, is a disservice to above-average kids. By way of contrast, in a private school, any child with serious learning or behavior problems will either not be admitted in the first place, or will be "counseled out" later...."

  4. Private schools don't treat learning-disabled children badly, they just don't take them (except for private schools that specialize in various disabilities, which is a different story.) The kids they actually handle, they treat well. Believe me, nobody gets locked in a closet at my kids' private school.

  5. "Full inclusion public school" and "private school" are not opposite terms.

    Is "counselling out" or "not admitting" examples of treating a child badly? I don't think so.

    I must be missing something..

    So PsychMom says.

  6. PsychMom, I don't get it either.

    The public schools, by law, take every child in the district. If they wind up ignoring bright kids and mistreating disabled kids, that's not a workable solution.

    If I choose to send my bright kid to a private school that sets the floor at "average", I don't see it as a contradiction to also try to advocate for a child with a disability who's been treated badly.

    Every child deserves a decent education and humane treatment. That's what this blog is about.

  7. Psychmom,
    Okay, I think I get cha. You and FedUpMon would like even kids with autism to be treated well, just not in the same class with your kids. Kind of a seperate but equal education. Wonder if that's been tried before.

  8. Anonymous, "separate but equal" didn't make sense when it was used for racial segregation, because race and schooling are different issues. A bright child with dark skin has the same educational needs as a bright child with pale skin, and it makes sense to school them together.

    On the other hand, a bright child and a child with learning disabilities have very different educational needs. Here, separating them could be advantageous to both.

  9. I just did a quick Google search on the topic. Generally, under the ADA and related statutes, private schools are prohibited from discriminating against disabled children, and have to make reasonable efforts to accommodate them. (See, for example, this link from the National Association of the Deaf.) Religious schools may stand on a slightly different footing, but I do not think they are entirely unaffected by these rules.

    I suspect, though, that FedUpMom is right that there are fewer disabled kids in private schools. In practice, it may be that some private schools, especially smaller ones, might have enough difficulty accommodating a disabled child that the parents of the child decide they are better off elsewhere. Or it may be that parents of disabled kids are less likely to choose a small private school that has less extensive experience in dealing with disabilities. But legally such a parent could insist on reasonable accommodations and stay at the private school. There must certainly be people who know much more about this than I do -- anyone out there?

    The larger question, though, isn't limited to kids with disabilities. There will certainly be kids in any public school classroom who might benefit from the presence of certain other kids -- whether it's because those other kids are more academically minded, or come from more stable homes, or whatever, or maybe just because it's good to be around people who are different from you. If some kids' families choose not to send them to public school, there's a loss to the kids who remain, no doubt about it.

    If that were the only concern at issue, we could just outlaw private schools and homeschooling, and require everyone to attend public school. But there are important values on the other side of the scale, too. Basic freedom is one of them, especially in matters of family and childrearing. That one counts a lot for me. Another concern is that the state will be too powerful if it gets to decide, uniformly and for everyone, what children will learn and what values they will be inculcated with. There is also value in allowing a number of possible approaches to any social goal, in hopes that better ideas will float to the surface and spread. There is also the point I made in another comment: whether one has an obligation to attend public school can't be discussed without reference to the way those schools are actually treating the kids. If public schools' educational methods are producing kids who can't function capably as a citizen of a democratic society -- or if it is in effect actually "dumbing them down" -- then arguably one has an obligation to society to look for alternatives. And so on.

    Like with so many issues, there are a lot of important values coming into conflict -- that's why people disagree.

  10. Speaking of "separate but equal", remember this?

    Black and White

  11. Chris excellent post and excellent thinking behind it.

    FedUpMom, Stretch out and find out what's going on in education. Race is a major issue.

    I know a kid who is often thought of as the weirdest in class; he's also the smartest. Many of the fools he tolerates are gifted.

    He figured out that the "scoreboard game" from Whole Brain Teaching was a con the very first day his teacher introduced it to his third grade class. Something NCWBT has sworn "no one, not even college students, ever figures out that the scoreboard is rigged, controlled by the teacher." He also judged it immoral, and cruel. He was right but it sure didn't win him any friends.

    I know I am often contentious, but I feel like I'm doing you a favor; that is making you consider, examine, justify what it is you are really saying and or believing.

  12. Chris, I expect your ADA ruling had to do with physical disabilities.

    The private schools in our area are competitive and only take the kids they want to take. It's well-known that they don't handle learning-disabled kids.

    It's comparable to getting into a college. Private colleges just don't take kids unless they reach a certain academic floor, and they make no bones about it.

    The private school my kids attend has a few kids with vision problems, but that's about the extent of disabilities that they handle.

    Chris says:

    There will certainly be kids in any public school classroom who might benefit from the presence of certain other kids -- whether it's because those other kids are more academically minded, or come from more stable homes, or whatever, or maybe just because it's good to be around people who are different from you.

    Chris, as I understand it, this is how inclusion got started in the first place. It was found that some kids who had been segregated into special ed did much better when they were "mainstreamed" into the regular classroom. There were also very real problems of racism in deciding who went to special ed.

    But now we've reached a point where the system is unwieldy. We've got classrooms with large numbers of kids over a wide range of abilities, and there's just no way one teacher can adequately deal with them all.

    And I resent people trying to tell me that I should have kept my kids in the public schools to uplift the other kids. That's not my kids' job. My kids deserve an education that benefits them.

  13. ***
    I suspect, though, that FedUpMom is right that there are fewer disabled kids in private schools.

    Chris, in our area, it's not a question of "fewer disabled kids in private schools." The private schools don't handle kids with academic disabilities, because they don't have to.

    The public schools, on the other hand, are actually locally famous for their special-ed programs. Families with special-ed kids move here just to send their kids to our schools.

    So the public schools have lots of special-ed kids, and the private schools have essentially none. It's not a small difference.

  14. Anonymous says:

    FedUpMom, Stretch out and find out what's going on in education.

    Anonymous, do you hear how patronizing this is?

  15. Anonymous says:

    I know I am often contentious, but I feel like I'm doing you a favor; that is making you consider, examine, justify what it is you are really saying and or believing.

    Anonymous, I do plenty of considering, examining, and justifying on my own. Again, it's very patronizing of you to think that that's your job.

  16. This discussion reminds me of an article I read (in the Wall Street Journal, I believe) about the Finnish school system. According to the article, Finnish teachers are directed to teach to the level of the least able students in the class. The reasoning is, if I remember correctly, that this is the only way the teacher can be sure that all the students are understanding the material. The thinking is also that it is not a bad thing for strong students to help weaker students. The weird thing is that the Finnish system is one of the best in the world--their students out-perform those of almost all other countries on international tests. (Finnish students also spend less time in school, and have virtually no homework.) The article also pointed out that most Finnish students who want to pursue post-secondary education get into the country's public universities.

    Finland is obviously a very different country from the US or Canada--less competitive and more homogeneous, for instance. Their methods may not be exportable, but I do find their system intriguing. I'll try to find the link and post it.

  17. The article is called, What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? Here's the URL (not sure if it will show up as a true link):


  18. Yes, I agree, I've been patronizing. Probably I need to improve my writing skills. And probably I need to just say what I want to say plainly and drop pretense and feeble pussy-footing around.

    I found your blog because we seemingly had similar concerns about how shabby, faddish, anti-research and anti-scientific too many schools are. And if not that, at least a shared hatred of Whole Brain Teaching.

    Catchy title "Coalition for Kid-Friendly Schools," but I see no coalition and very little attention paid to what "Kid Friendly" means.

    I think you're full of malarkey and making stuff up on the fly here,
    "The public schools, on the other hand, are actually locally famous for their special-ed programs. Families with special-ed kids move here just to send their kids to our schools."

  19. Anonymous, I don't make stuff up. I know a family who moved here specifically so their special-ed kid could get the services our public schools provide. I don't blame them -- they made the best choice they could for their family.

    What do you think "Kid Friendly" means?

  20. northTOmom, thanks for the article, good stuff! The latter part about children having more independence reminds me of an article or blog about young adults and teens without sufficient coping skills, such as- being able to change a car tire, being able to adjust to changing traveling schedules and so on, due to having constant contact/help via cellphone from their parents. Thought-provoking stuff and well worth at least attempting weighing risk v benefit. Too bad I can't quite remember and put my finger on it to share right now.

    FedUp, you know one family, eh?

  21. Come to think of it, I know at least two families with special-ed kids who moved here for the local public schools. Again, I don't criticize the families -- they made the best choice they could for their kids.

    Similarly, I try to make the best choices I can for my kids. And if that means a private school with small, relatively homogeneous classes, that's my choice.

  22. Again, I'm no expert -- it may be true that learning disabilities are treated differently under these laws, and there is almost certainly a limit on just how much any private entity would have to do to "reasonably accommodate" people with disabilities. I just don't know.

    But the law itself may not be what makes the difference in the end, since most parents of disabled kids are likely to choose a school that already has expertise in working with that disability, which, more often than not, is probably going to be the public school system. (Though I do wonder what the options are for parents who feel that their disabled child is being disserved by the public schools -- like Mrs. C.)

    My main objection to Anonymous's argument (as I understand it) is the same objection I have to the idea that people have an obligation to send their kids to public school: it treats kids instrumentally in a way that we would never do to adults. We don't generally think of the adult population as soldiers to be conscripted into whatever cause the community wants to promote. It would be politically unthinkable, for example, to suggest that adults should be required to spend a given number of hours every week in the company of disabled people -- even though disabled people would arguably benefit from greater integration with the non-disabled population.

    I don't see any justification for distinguishing between adults and children in that regard. The only thing that makes it more acceptable to suggest that kids should have to be schooled in a way that benefits other kids -- even if it works to their own detriment -- is that kids, unlike adults, do not vote and have no say in the matter.

    I'm not saying that kids should get to vote. But, given that they are disenfranchised, I think that those who do vote have an obligation to recognize that kids are nonetheless human beings and should not be treated any more instrumentally than we allow the government to treated enfranchised people. The history of enfranchised people acting "in the best interests" of disenfranchised groups (e.g., prisons, mental hospitals, slaves, women) is a pretty sorry one. I think it's important to see society's treatment of children at least partly in that context.

    There is no perfect substitute for enabling a given group to participate in deciding its own treatment. But, in my opinion, parents are the people most likely to treat kids as human beings rather than objects to be used for the benefit of the common good. That's why I'd like to see our educational policymaking apparatus set up in such a way that parents had much more of a say. It's also one reason why I support the right of parents (like FedUpMom) to withdraw from the public schools if they think it's in their kids' best interest. And again, if there were a more humane private option near me, I'd leap at it for my kids.

    So I guess that's my nomination for one way to talk about what kid-friendly means. That each kid is primarily an end in him- or herself, and not primarily a means of benefitting the group. It's not an absolute, but that value would weigh pretty heavily in my judgments.

    I do think this issue is a difficult one. Anonymous, I keep equating your argument with the argument that people have an obligation not to take their kids out of the public schools, because it's seems like the logical conclusion of it. Are you seeing a distinction?

    Sorry for these long comments.

  23. Oops, make that three families. Now that I think about it, there's an interesting contrast. The parents I know with special-needs kids talk about how wonderful our public schools are.

    Parents with bright or gifted kids in our public schools talk about how stressed out their kids are. Sometimes they accept it and think it'll get their kids into a high-status college, sometimes they're worried about it.

    Anonymous, I still don't get where you're coming from.

  24. northTOMom, I took a look at the article you mentioned, and I was surprised to see that they teach to the "least able" in the class. But I'm not sure who is in those classes. Finland has separate high schools for vocational or academic training, so it could be that their academic classes are much closer to my kids' private school in their range of abilities.

  25. Chris, No that isn't my argument. I haven't put forth any argument, just criticism.

    Like Mrs. C, I have home-schooled a child though not in order to protect him from the sort of abuse her child endured. The one I home-schooled was two years ahead academically than his grade(first) at the time- all self-taught. (Maybe he's autistic, except for the part that's not autistic.) It was more "un-schooling" than anything. It was wonderful for me. No devoting one's family schedule to the school calendar, no school's rules.. on and on.. In our case, unlike most home-schoolers I've read about, my child got a lot of "more of the same" at home, and though I knew he'd have to do a lot of work that held no meaning or importance to him, I hoped the trade-off in returning to public school would be worth it. Trade off meaning- getting diverse viewpoints, social interaction with all kinds of people, opportunities for friendships, interesting topics that he or I wouldn't think of or discover on our own. He hasn't got all those things we'd hoped for so far. There has been a cost to returning to public school but it has been worth it so far. So more power to Mrs. C. Homeschool the shit outta that son of yours! Get the government to foot the bill if you can!~

    And I'm cool with private school too. No one owes the system one's own child.

    Singing the blues because your kid was in an inclusion class is a little much for me to take.

    I agree with Chris, one should not be forced to hang around disabled people. I do believe a lot worse could happen to you than to befriend a so called disabled person. I suppose it's natural and understandable to seek people one has compatibility with such as one's intellectual equals. I agree parents are best able to decide what's best for their own children. But if you choose to only associate, go to school with, those like yourself- You are robbing yourself from knowing some pretty cool, interesting people. Thinking the above average or gifted are always doing the supporting in a group is myopic, and well, just wrong.

    FedUpMom- I Guess I'm coming from the belief that- All things considered, we haven't got much to be elitist about. But it will take more finesse and powers of persuasion than I have to convince you.

  26. Then I don't really disagree. All I'm saying is that I don't blame anyone for focusing on the costs -- and benefits -- to their *own kid* of being in a particular school situation. You're right that one shouldn't discount the benefits of having one's child meeting people different from him- or herself, including disabled kids. But there are costs, too, especially if you're not all that happy with the school to begin with.

  27. Anonymous, my child was in an inclusion class where her needs were ignored. I've got a right to sing the blues.

    I'm not against my kids getting to know different kinds of people, including those with various disabilities. What I'm against is my kids getting stuck in a large class with an extremely wide range of abilities, where the teacher winds up ignoring them because he's so concerned about coaching the below-average kids to perform a few points higher on the standardized test.

  28. Anonymous, I could add that your child sounds like what's called "2e" -- that's "twice exceptional". This describes kids who are simultaneously gifted and also have some special needs. Is this what you mean by "autistic except for the part that's not autistic"?

    So what's your child's experience been like at the public school? What's working? What's not working?

  29. Anonymous, I would also like to say that there's a lot of variability in public schools. So, for instance, Mrs. C got stuck in a district that abuses some of their special-needs kids.

    I, on the other hand, live in a wealthy suburban district that apparently does a very good job with special ed, to the point where some families move to this district for the special ed services.

    My district is also considered a "good district" in the sense that average test scores are high, and some of our bright, hard-working kids get into high-status schools. But they pay a very high price in terms of stress and overwork, and they don't get what I would call a good education.

  30. Naw, my son doesn't have autism or on the spectrum. Just a failed joke on my part (He's crazy smart so are many autistic people.)

    Also we've begun talking about people with disabilities like they fall into only two categories- Physical impairments & limitations or significant cognitive impairment- that's the way it reads to me. But aren't many, many, learning disabilities processing deficits like dyslexia? Are the filthy unwashed masses of dyslexics keeping you down?

  31. Inclusion and abuse are two different issues, as I think FedUpMom was trying to point out.

    I will say that I have at least two sons on the autism spectrum who are not physically, emotionally or mentally disabled. They need a lot more structure than your average student (give schedule, talk of "what comes next," allow a corner seat where he won't be bumped) but hardly anything that would be beyond reasonable to ask. They just didn't feel like taking the staff time and effort to set up a system that would work long-term.

    I think that as a COMMUNITY, we regular folk benefit from interacting with people who are different from ourselves ethnically AND ability-wise. There's no reason, say, that my preschool age nonverbal child couldn't participate with his aide in an art or gym class if his needs were taken into consideration later on.

    Parents are usually pretty reasonable people. When was the last time a parent of an MR student asked for her child to be admitted into AP classes? Most of us just want *reasonable* accomodations.

    Unfortunately, the way the language of "inclusion" is interpreted by schools, it means "cheapest option possible" (throw her in with 30 other students, and give no help). I think we ALL agree that this is plain rotten to all students.

    That being said, I think we all need to learn to be occasionally inconvenienced and/or learn to make a few allowances here and there. It's a balance. I know of quite a few "standard issue" children who are just a plain old pain in the butt and hold up class quite a bit... it isn't all the kids with the disabilities. :)

    God bless you and thanks for a lively discussion!

  32. Mrs. C., thank you for your comments. I was actually thinking about this some more, and I was going to say something similar. A lot of the kids who diverted the teacher's attention in my daughter's public school class weren't particularly disabled, they were just low performing, or had behavior issues.

    The teacher had no reason to pay attention to a quiet, high performing, well behaved child. The child happened to be profoundly depressed by the school environment, but the school didn't care. They didn't even pretend to care until I started the process of removing her from the public schools.