Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

One Family's Perspective of Their Experiences with School and District Personnel over Time Related to Inclusive Educational Services for a Family Member with Significant Disabilities

Academic journal article International Journal of Whole Schooling

One Family's Perspective of Their Experiences with School and District Personnel over Time Related to Inclusive Educational Services for a Family Member with Significant Disabilities

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since the passage of special education legislation (i.e., P.L. 94-142 [U.S. Department of Education, 1975], Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [U.S. Department of Education, 2004]), many parents have advocated for their children with disabilities to spend more time in learning environments that least restrict their child's access to general education and to peers without disabilities. Federal regulations mandate that schools first consider whether the needs of a student with disabilities could be met in inclusive general education contexts, prior to considering more restrictive contexts. In spite of this many families struggle to have special education services and supports provided for their children with significant disabilities in general education contexts (Soodak & Erwin, 2000).

Research conducted in inclusive general education contexts has described positive outcomes for students with significant disabilities (Fisher & Meyer, 2002; Fryxell & Kennedy, 1995; Hunt, Farron-Davis, Beckstead, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994; Ryndak, Downing, Jacqueline, & Morrison, 1995; Ryndak, Morrison, & Sommerstein, 1999). For example, when the location for the provision of services for students with significant disabilities have been changed from self-contained special education classes to inclusive general education classes, some parents have indicated that their children made more progress, leading to the parents becoming more hopeful about their children's futures (Ryndak et al., 1995; Ryndak et al., 1999). In addition, studies have indicated that students with significant disabilities have demonstrated growth in such areas as literacy (Ryndak et al., 1999), social competence, and independence (Fisher & Meyer, 2002).

Although such studies suggest improved outcomes for students with significant disabilities when they are educated in contexts that least restricts their access to general education and peers without disabilities, there is little evidence about differences in parental or familial experiences with the special education system and process. For example, research from the late 1980s found that parents were concerned about (a) their children's safety in inclusive settings, (b) the ability of general education teachers to instruct their children, and (c) their children's potential for social isolation and rejection by classmates (Hanline & Halvorsen, 1989; McDonnell, 1987). Many of the parents' concerns dissipated, however, after their children had received services and supports in inclusive general education contexts and, overall, the parents were pleased with the gains their children had made. These studies offer "snapshots" of multiple families' perceptions of their own experiences at a specific point in their involvement with their children's education career.

More recent research suggests that although some parents were pleased with their children's experiences in inclusive general education contexts, other families continued struggling to obtain services for their children with significant disabilities in inclusive general education contexts (Kluth et al, 2007; Soodak & Erwin, 2000). Many parents report feeling frustrated and disempowered while attempting to secure such educational services for their children with significant disabilities (Kluth et al., 2007; Soodak & Erwin, 2000). In addition, many families who attempt to work with school and district personnel to secure educational services for their children in inclusive general education contexts have found that some teachers and administrators do not welcome their involvement (Davern, 1999). Parents have indicated that they struggle to determine how actively involved they can be without being perceived as a burden by school personnel, or as seeking too much of a leadership role on their children's educational teams (Soodak & Erwin, 2000). …

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