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Difference of Opinion

 

Jane is an adaptive physical education teacher in a middle school. When one of her former students fails his regular PE class, his parents and doctor request that he be returned to Jane's class. The department head of special education blocks his return due to a technicality and Jane comes to his defense

 

Jane has two passions in life: her work and her daughter, Stephanie. These passions have, over the years, posed challenges for Jane. Her daughter was born 14 years ago with multiple disabilities that included severe mental retardation and serious health and physical problems. Several years after her daughter's birth, Jane's marriage disintegrated and she had to find a way to support herself. After several months of discouraging job interviews, Jane concluded that without a college degree she would never find work that would pay reasonably well and provide health and retirement benefits. Because her daughter continued to have serious health problems, it was essential to find a job with a good health plan.

After much thought and self-reflection, Jane agreed to give her ex-husband custody of Stephanie so that she could attend college. For seven years, Jane worked as a waitress, secretary, and sales clerk in order to support herself as she studied to be an adaptive physical education teacher. Jane worked day and night through the week, but spent the weekends with her daughter. Although Stephanie's visits were not always easy, Jane lived for them.

When Jane graduated, she was able to regain custody of Stephanie. She moved into a neighborhood where the local school had, in Jane’s opinion, the best programs for her daughter. She accepted a job as an adaptive physical education teacher at Johnston Middle School, close to Stephanie’s new school.

All of Jane's students have complex needs. They have classifications such as autistic, trainable mentally handicapped, and visually impaired. She also has children in wheelchairs and children with health concerns such as severe asthma. One of her students was badly burned in an accident. Jane’s kids like her class and they seem to do well. Parents ask for their children to be in her class, and she works hard to accommodate every student.

Jane sees herself as teacher, advocate, and protector, sometimes to the annoyance of other professionals in her school. Jane persists in these roles because she feels she knows what the children and their families face and she doesn'tt want others "messing around with her kids." She becomes friendly with her students' parents and offers advice and empathy when needed. Occasionally, parents invite Jane to dinner in their homes.

Recently, however, Jane’s good intentions have created a conflict with Claudia, the department head of special education Johnston Middle School. Their conflict stems from their differing perspectives regarding the placement of Oscar, a student with learning disabilities who had been in Jane’s class last year. His mother described him as "high risk" for self-destructive behavior. According to his father, Oscar is a "computer nut" with few friends. According to his parents, Oscar is a "follower" when he interacts with other children. Teachers agree that Oscar is bright, but very self-conscious. His big feet and awkwardness give him a gawky appearance. Oscar qualifies for adaptive physical education because of his quiet and withdrawn personality as well as problems with perceptual motor activities, motor planning, posture, balance, and eye-hand/foot coordination.

Oscar did well last year in Jane's 7th grade class. Because of his improvement, he joined a regular physical education class this year but it has been a disaster! He is overwhelmed by the large group situation and intimidated by the teacher. As a result, Oscar simply refuses to participate and consequently is failing the class. Both his parents and his doctor requested that he be returned to Jane's class. Jane agreed that Oscar should return and notified Claudia that a meeting with Oscar’s parents should be scheduled.

Jane soon received a message from Claudia informing her that the meeting regarding Oscar had been scheduled for the following day. Unfortunately, it was scheduled when Jane could not attend. She immediately called Claudia back.

"I didn't want you to be upset and feel like I was acting behind your back," Claudia began, "but we can’t put Oscar back in your class." Claudia hastily explained that Oscar was already in three special education classes. If he were placed in a 4th,  his classification would have to change to full-time special education.

"Those are the rules, Jane," Claudia reminded her, "and at the last IEP meeting, the group did not think Oscar needed full-time special education."

"Well, maybe we should change such STUPID rules!" Jane retorted.

"Jane, you need to respond more like a professional and less like a mother," Claudia chided her.

"Well, because you are making decisions about my student, you could at least schedule the meeting at a time when I can come! I can't talk now, but this is NOT in Oscar's best interest and you know it!" Jane responded.  "You'll hear more from me later!'

That night, Jane thought about the decision. The more she replayed the conversation with Claudia in her head, the angier she became. She found it intolerable that Oscar was being harmed by some bureaucratic rule. She also knew that Oscar’s present physical education class was not appropriate for him.

"That teacher is an insensitive autocrat," Jane thought to herself.

"Sit down and shut up!" she often heard Hal Minors command.

"You'll do what I tell you when I tell you or you're out of here!" he would threaten if students did not respond quickly enough.

"Do that once more and I'll haul you up to the principal's office," Hal would yell at Oscar for what Jane considered to be minor transgressions.  

Jane recalled the time Hal disagreed with a curriculum committee’s decision to adopt a book. Hal publicly rejected their work with the angry retort, "You can order any damn book you want but I'm not going to use it."

Jane dislikes Hal, but she has no respect for Claudia either. Thus, she doesn't trust her decisions. In Jane's opinion, Claudia is controlling and power-hungry, and enjoys exerting clout. Jane thinks Claudia makes decisions based on efficiency and political influence rather than studnets' needs. She also suspects that Claudia is a hostile person who really does not like coworkers. Many times Jane has heard her make derogatory comments about parents after acting concerned in a meeting. Jane has no respect for such "two-faced behavior."

The more Jane thought about the situation, the more convinced she became that she must stop it. She simply could not tolerate Oscar being in Hal’s physical education class any longer and she was furious at Claudia's under-handed ways. After several hours of deliberating how to counter Claudia’s actions in a professional manner, Jane finally decided to call Oscar’s parents.

"Eileen? This is Jane Yearby. I wanted to alert you to several issues that will be discussed at tomorrow's meeting. Unfortunately, they have scheduled the meeting at a time when I cannot attend. They contend that Oscar can’t be put back into my class because his IEP specifies that he is to be in special education only part time. If he were placed in my class, he would be classified as a full-time special education student. As it stands now, he is not eligible for that designation.

Eileen anxiously responded, "They can't make those decisions without our input, can they? I really think you should be there."

Jane responded, "Tell them that you want me present. Nothing can happen until you sign the IEP. The rule is that a student is classified as full-time if he is in more than three special education classes and Oscar is already in three. Does he really need to be in all of them?"

Eileen began to describe Oscar's schedule, detailing his problems and the strategies that his teachers were using. She confirmed that Oscar needed each of the academic special education classes. After a lengthy discussion, Eileen and Jane agreed that the best strategy was to request another meeting when Jane could attend.

The next day Jane was so busy that she barely had time to think about Oscar. She was reminded, however, when she received her new class roll and Oscar’s name was not on it. "How can I ensure that Oscar’s needs are addressed?" Jane thought to herself as she considered her dilemma. "I wonder if Claudia is upset that I advised Eileen to request another meeting? Has she made a final decision against our wishes? Am I risking my job by taking a stand on a student’s behalf?"

 

Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

  1. Why does Claudia think Oscar should not return to Jane’s class?
  2. What procedures would need to be followed if Oscar were to be allowed back into Jane’s class?
  3. List some reasons for and against changing Oscar’s placement from part-time to full-time special education.
  4. Do you think that Jane handled the situation in an appropriate manner?
  5. What steps could have been taken to ensure that Oscar was more successful in his regular PE class?
  6. Do you think Oscar should remain in Hal’s class?
  7. What steps could Oscar’s parents take if the school refused to remove their son from the regular PE class and return him to Jane’s class?

 

CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Diversity and dynamics of families, schools, and communities as related to effective instruction for individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration, which promotes interaction with students, parents, and school and community personnel.

Roles of students, parents, teachers, and other school and community personnel in planning a student’s individualized program.

 

Other Areas:

Models, theories, and philosophies that provide the basis for special education practice.

 

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