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February 27, 2014
Parents of special education students may be seeing a light at the end of a very long tunnel, as their fight for inclusion for their children may be nearing a resolution.

Since last summer, parents have been pressing district officials to establish formal guidelines on how their children can be assimilated into the general education population. The primary focus of the inclusion program would be those classes typically described as "specials," at the elementary level and "electives" at the middle and high school level, and include art, music and physical education.

It has not always been easy, with several parents accusing district superintendent Thomas Harwood of being "insensitive" to their requests.

But with board trustee Lois Valente proposing a resolution at Monday night's school board meeting mandating inclusion in those classes, it seemed that the parents are being heard, but they will have to wait another month for a formal board policy is established.

At issue is what some feel to be exclusionary practices that do not allow special needs students to participate in classes with their general education peers. Separate art, music and gym classes are the norm, which some believe violates the "least restrictive environment" mandate of special education laws.

"It's time to put something on the table," Valente said. "Parents have come to the board asking for help and administration has taken no action. We need to stop listening and start acting."

Valente said she was putting forth a resolution now because teachers and building administrators are beginning to schedule classes for the 2014-15 school year, and Individual Education Plans (IEP's) are being developed for special education students.

However, at least one board member, Tom Jukubiec, balked at the wording of Valente's resolution and asked that it be tabled for further review.

"I would like to give administration three weeks to draft a new resolution on the direction they want to go," he said. "I'm supportive of the spirit of the resolution, but I'd like to see administration bring forth a plan to implement it."

He requested that the resolution be modified to specify that classes have a certain percentage of special needs students to allow a fair balance between special needs students and their general education peers and to guarantee that classes are inclusionary.

According to Harwood, 1,184 students have IEP's, accounting for 14 percent of the district's total enrollment.

Board president Joan Dindoffer directed administration to prepare a resolution that would require a set percentage of students with IEP's to be included in general education classes, and bring it to the board at its March 17 meeting.

She did not approve Valente's request to appoint a subcommittee of the board to work with administration, but suggested Valente could collaborate with administration in the wording of the new resolution.

"I am cautiously optimistic the board will approve a resolution to better align GPPSS programs with inclusive opportunities for all children at all levels," Valente said following the meeting.

Several parents of special needs students said they were encouraged by the actions taken by the board.

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