ADA & IDEA in Practice
In three weeks, I will sit down with the special education teachers in my building and be handed a stack of packets. Each of these packets contains confidential information about a specific special education student who will be in my general education classroom at some point during the day. I learn about their disability, their progress, their test scores, and how I can best support them. Their IEPs outline the accommodations I need to offer, and the special education teachers may make suggestions about modifications. Often it is completely manageable, even for a new teacher, especially with continued teaching support from the special education department. We are able to provide FAPE and meet the needs of the majority of our special educations students with IEPs and 504 plans.
But this isn't the whole story for students with disabilities in our community, because what I've described are just the students who end up in our building. We are a small, semi-rural school with limited resources for providing support for students with severe disabilities. When it's decided that a student can't be adequately supported at our school, the district provides a bus to take the student to the nearest high school that can, which is an hour away. ADA and IDEA are making sure that this student, regardless of their disability is getting an equal chance at a quality and appropriate education, but I can't tell you how heartbreaking it is to discuss removing a student from their community and add a 2 hour commute to their day. The student's short-term quality of life also becomes part of the equation. As you can imagine, we try every possible solution before it comes to sending a student with severe disabilities to a different, distant school, but when the student's needs are beyond reasonable accommodation with our resources we don't legally have much of a choice. It would cost the district some money to add a position at the school to provide individual support for one student, but is one salary really undue hardship? If the school with the appropriate program was 1.5 or 2 hours away would we still bus students instead of hiring another special education aide? How do you balance the hardship endured by the district against hardship the student encounters trying to access equal education?