District 95 works to better integrate special ed, general classrooms

Lake Zurich School District 95 officials are planning educational programs that further integrate students with learning disabilities into general classrooms.

The Least Restrictive Environment Cohort, which is a partnership between the district and the Illinois State Board of Education, recently found that only about 35 percent of the district’s 300 students with learning disabilities were spending more than three-quarters of their time in general education settings.

Per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, all students are to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. In many cases, that means students with average cognitive ability, who face deficits in reading, writing or math, learn alongside their mainstream peers as much as possible.

Erin Pittman, District 95’s assistant superintendent of student services, explained that the state’s performance target was to have 52 percent of a district’s student population with disabilities receiving more than three-quarters of their education in the general education setting. Separate rooms, she said, have been found to hinder academic and social-emotional growth.

“[The district’s percentage] is significantly below the state target and is alarming, as the trend continues to decrease,” Pittman said.

The 35 percent mark in District 95 also is below the district’s 43.8 percent in 2010-11 and 42.3 percent in 2011-12.

Pittman noted that the Least Restrictive Environment Cohort reasoned that the decrease occurred because the district didn’t provide enough options for students to more easily learn within the general education setting.

The decreases were even more pronounced at the junior high and high school levels, she added.

For example, the percentage decreased from 61.2 percent junior year to 38.5 percent senior year.

“All the time that they are being pulled out of the classroom is moving us in the wrong direction,” Pittman said.

At the preschool level this year, Pittman and the Early Childhood programming team set up blended classrooms to accommodate both students with disabilities and typical learners by bringing in occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists and social workers.

Similar versions of the same concept were implemented at the elementary, middle and high school levels, with positive results reported for all students at the preschool and elementary school levels, Pittman said.

The goal now is learn why students with disabilities are spending less time in general education classrooms as they move from one grade level to the next, and to reverse the trend.

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