Nov 10, 2013
06:43 AMThe Connecticut Story
Debate on Mainstreaming Special Education Students Rages on in Connecticut
Mara Lavitt/New Haven Register
Patrick Jordan of West Hartford was part of a landmark Connecticut case that established a state mandate to mainstream special needs children in schools. One of his jobs is to shelve books at the West Hartford Public Library two days a week, a job recommended to him while he was at Manchester Community College.
Nicholas Glomb of Vernon, who has Down syndrome, was able to spend his school years in regular classrooms with his non-disabled classmates.
Today, at age 25, he has friends, works at a supermarket and aspires to have his own food service business.
“None of this would have been possible without him being included in general education classes,” said his father, Walter Glomb.
Proponents of the movement in recent years to include disabled children in regular education classes as much as possible point to success stories like Nicholas.
But others say special education students sometimes end up isolated and unable to keep pace.
Hildegard Szokol of Shelton, a retired special education teacher who spent three decades teaching in the Valley, recalled a disabled student who was put in a freshman algebra class even though he had early elementary school-level math skills.
“You could see the other kids getting frustrated or exasperated when the special education student had difficulty,” Szokol said. “If you are in an algebra class, but you are at a first-grade math level and you are sitting off to the side, you definitely can be isolated in a large group.
“I think inclusion works better at the younger grades, before the harder academics kick in,” Szokol said. “Those students were more isolated in those classrooms than when they received instruction in small settings with like peers. They are more isolated when they move up to middle and high school.”
Years ago, most students with disabilities would have spent their school years in separate classrooms, with little interaction with their non-disabled peers.
But the settlement of a landmark class-action lawsuit known as the “P.J. case” changed the face of special education in Connecticut a decade ago, and prompted the state to move toward inclusion for all students with disabilities.
While it is much more common for disabled children to be with their non-disabled peers than it was a decade ago, the debate rages on about how well the state and school districts are implementing inclusion and how well it is working.