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No Place to Go

In an effort to provide her preschool students with disabilities the opportunity for inclusion, Sally worked to integrate her class with a Headstart program. She engineered the project and relinquished her space and resources to merge with three other teachers in a cooperative venture of inclusion. Initial success turned to despair the second year after students with more severe handicaps were enrolled in the program and the general education teachers balked at working with them.


Sally Johnson had been a preschool teacher for children with special needs for the past seven years at Daypark Elementary School. In the past two years, Sally had seen many changes in her program. There was a local effort to include preschoolers with special needs in private daycare and preschool programs. The private programs were receiving state funds to include students with mild disabilities and many of the students that had been in Sally’s self-contained program in the public school were now attending private programs. The students that remained in her program were those with moderate to severe disabilities (whom the private programs would not admit) as well as those whose families could not afford to pay for the remaining cost of the private programs that the state funds did not cover.

Sally wanted her remaining students to also have the opportunity to be included in a learning environment with students who had diverse abilities, needs, and backgrounds. She spoke to her principal and local school officials about renting space in a private preschool program. She reasoned that she could move her classroom to the private program and provide inclusion opportunities for her students. Although the school officials agreed with her reasoning, they stated that there was no money to rent the private classroom space and encouraged Sally to explore other options.

Sally was disappointed, but not discouraged. She began looking for other options that would not require additional funding. As she was driving to school the next week, she passed a large gray building that stood on the outer corner of the school campus. She took that route every morning, but for some reason the building stood out to her that day. "Of course!" she said to herself, "The Headstart program is in that building.  That’s the answer." Sally knew the three teachers in the program and decided to talk to them about her idea that day after school.

That afternoon, Sally crossed the field that separated the elementary school building from the Headstart building, filled with hope and determination. She liked Marsha, Fran, and Mary, the three teachers in the Headstart program, and thought that they would be receptive to her idea. She knew that Headstart guidelines stated that 10% of the students admitted into the program had to have a disability or documented special need. If she moved her classroom to the Headstart building, she could boost their special needs population as well as provide inclusion opportunities for her own students.

As Sally entered the building she called out to the three teachers who were sitting around a planning table across the room. Sally was envious of the amount of space they had. The building was the size of a gymnasium and was very well equipped.

"Hi, how are you?"

"Hi, Sally," they all replied in unison.

"I have something I want to talk to you about," Sally said as she approached the table.

"Sure, we were just finishing up our plans for tomorrow. Have a seat," Mary said as she pulled out a chair for Sally.

Sally began telling them about the changes that had occurred in her program and her students’ need to be included in a more diverse setting. She went on to explain her idea and how she thought that they could better meet the needs of all of their students by working together.

Mary said, "You know, that is a great idea. We could really use your help and a few more kids won’t make any difference. We have plenty of room."

"Yeah, space is no problem and we can take turns being the lead teacher every day so that it lessens the load on all of us," Marsha added. Fran smiled and nodded.

"I’m so glad to hear you say that," Sally replied. "Are you sure you are all in agreement?"

"Absolutely!" Mary said as Marsha and Fran nodded.

Sally volunteered to discuss the plan with the principal, Mr. Gates. He oversaw both the elementary school program and the Headstart program. "I’ll talk to him tomorrow and let you know what he says."

The next morning, Sally arrived at school early. She went straight to Mr. Gates’ office. As she entered, he looked up from some papers and said, "Hi, Sally, what’s up?"

"I’ve come up with another option for my students," Sally replied and went on to explain the plan.

"Sounds like you have really thought this through and are committed to it, Sally. What about the other teachers?" Mr. Gates asked.

Sally explained how she had met with the teachers and how they were all in agreement with the plan because it provided a win-win situation for everyone. Mr. Gates nodded and said, "Well, in that case, let’s try it. We will have to check with the parents of your students and the county supervisor, but I don’t foresee any problems." Sally was elated and volunteered to check with the parents. She also stated that she would see the county supervisor at workshop that afternoon and would talk with her then.

Mr. Gates stood up behind his desk and said, "If everything checks out, you can put the plan in motion at the beginning of next month. That will give you two weeks to plan and set everything up."

Sally immediately shared the news with Mary, Marsha, and Fran. Then, that afternoon, Sally talked to the county supervisor and explained the plan. The supervisor thought it was a good idea and agreed with Sally about the opportunities it afforded. When she got home that evening, Sally called the parents of her five students. They were all happy that their children would have the opportunity to be included in a program for "regular kids," as they put it. When Sally finished making the phone calls, she sat down in her favorite chair and thought to herself, "This is really coming together!" She began jotting down some notes about ideas for putting the plan into motion. She would have to prepare her students, pack up her room, make changes in the students’ IEPs to reflect the new setting, and begin planning with the other teachers.

Over the next two weeks, plans for integrating the two programs were completed. Sally packed up a few essential materials and distributed the rest of her materials and toys to other preschool teachers in the district. She wanted other teachers who needed the materials to have them because the Headstart program was well equipped and her materials would just be duplicates. The day before the integration was to take place, Sally spoke to Mr. Gates to let him know that she had cleaned out her classroom and that everything was set for the next day. Mr. Gates again told her that he thought the integration was a good idea. He also said he was going to turn her empty classroom into a computer lab for the school. The school needed the lab, but until now there had been no space to house it. Sally was happy that the situation was going to benefit everyone.

The integration of the two programs went very well. Each week one of the four teachers took a turn being the lead teacher responsible for setting up learning centers and curricular activities. The other three helped carry out the plans for the week. During certain times of the day, Sally would work individually with students on IEP goals. She found that many of the IEP goals became easier to address in the inclusive setting because the children had peer models to follow. She also found that all of the students displayed a lot of social growth. She really saw all of the children in the program as her students and felt that the other teachers had the same perception. They all tried very hard not to single out any one student and the inclusionary programming was a big success throughout the year.

The next year, however, things began to change. The students coming into Sally’s portion of the program had severe disabilities: greater cognitive delays, less developed communication skills, and a variety of physical impairments. She now had seven students on her caseload; two were not toilet trained. One child had cerebral palsy and was unable to walk, talk, or feed herself. Sally began to see more and more of a division between "her students" and "their students." The other teachers refused to help with toileting, diaper changing, or feeding the students. They all emphatically stated that was not their job. They needed to attend to their students.

Sally saw a division even at breakfast time. Previously, Sally had enjoyed that time of the day because each of the teachers sat at a table with seven of the children. "Her students" were always dispersed among the four tables. She enjoyed watching them interact with the other students and teachers. Now, however, the other teachers refused to have many of her students at their tables.  Finally Sally and her students were relegated to one table. Sally began to dread breakfast each morning.

Sally probably could have dealt with the situation if the division stopped with breakfast. She found that she had to pull "her students" to the side more frequently to work with them because their needs were not being addressed in the class activities. She talked to the other teachers about making modifications in the class activities and curriculum to better meet the needs of her students but they were less than receptive.

"We need to worry about the needs of our students. You need to pull your students aside and work with them if you feel they are not getting what they need," Marsha said.

"I know we agreed to this inclusionary programming and it worked fine last year," said Mary, "but it is just getting too difficult. We weren’t trained to work with children with such severe needs. I wish there was something we could do, but we have to think about the other children."

As time went on, Sally began to feel like a classroom assistant most of the day. She spent most of the "whole class" time helping "her students" participate in the planned activities. She spent very little time interacting with the "other children" or directing activities for the whole group. Sally also saw the division between the children creep into center time and playtime. "Her students" were not interacting with the other children as much and were not welcomed as enthusiastically into activities and centers by the other students.

One afternoon, as the teachers were straightening up the centers, Fran turned to Sally and said, "I look at your kids and see their runny noses and wet pants and I know I could never be a special education teacher." Sally’s heart sank. She began to think that the inclusion of her students was a mistake. They were not being welcomed or accepted and that had to have a negative effect on them.

After thinking about the situation, Sally talked to Fran, Marsha, and Mary about pulling her students out and going back to her old classroom. They all agreed that perhaps that would be best for everyone. Sally told Mr. Gates about the situation.

"Sally, you are the one who wanted to move your program. You need to work this thing out. Besides, I don’t have a classroom for you to move to. We are using your old classroom for a computer lab and I’m not about to tell the rest of the teachers that I’m pulling that resource!"

As Sally walked out of Mr. Gates’ office she wondered to herself, "What am I going to do? I have no classroom to go to. I gave away most of my materials when I integrated my program with Headstart. The Headstart teachers are not willing to work with my students, and worst of all, my students’ needs are not being met."



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. Do you think Sally’s students should have been included in the Headstart program?
  2. Do you think the inclusionary programming was a failure? Why or why not?
  3. How do you think Sally could have addressed the concerns of the other teachers?
  4. How do you think the needs of Sally’s students could have been met within the inclusionary setting?
  5. What do you think Sally should do now?


CEC Competency/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Area:

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


Other Areas:

Educational implications of characteristics of various exceptionalities.

Techniques for modifying instructional methods and materials.

Basic classroom management theories, methods, and techniques for students with exceptional learning needs.


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