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Stuck In the Middle 

Christine Wallace is struggling to meet the needs of her general education class with the addition of two children with special needs. One of those children, Katy Alvarez, has it designated in her IEP that she will have the assistance of a special education aide while in Christine's class. Having Katy's aide, Ms. Butler, in the classroom makes Christine's job more manageable, but school administration is reassigning her elsewhere on a regular basis. Christine debates how to handle this delicate issue.


On a Thursday morning in late October, Christine Wallace had just finished writing the math work for the day on the board when several children from her class knocked on her door. "Are the buses here already?" she exclaimed as she welcomed them into the room. In her fifth year of teaching at Bay Side Elementary, Christine enjoyed her Kindergarten through 2nd grade/continuous progress class. However, the half-hour of planning time before the children arrived in the morning was never enough to prepare for the day. Somehow, though, she had always managed to be ready. "That is," she thought sadly to herself, "until this year."

As more of her students drifted into the room, Christine noticed Katy Alvarez and her mother coming down the hall towards her room. "Good morning ladies!" Christine called to them as they approached. Katy looked cute, as always, in her new set of overalls with color-coordinated blouse, socks, and hair ribbons. "How cute you look, Katy!" Christine remarked as Katy held up her wristband for her teacher to see. "And look at that, your wristbands even match too!"

The wristbands had been the suggestion of Katy's speech therapist, Pat Jenkins. Because Katy had neuromuscular weakness involving her face and mouth, she occasionally drooled. While Pat worked with Katy to strengthen her lip control, the wristbands served as a reminder for her to wipe her mouth when necessary.  Mrs. Alvarez tried to make them special so Katy would want to wear them. Mom's strategy seemed to be working; Katy was obviously delighted with her matching wristbands.

"Have a good day, Katy Bug," Mrs. Alvarez said as she kissed her daughter good bye for the day. Katy waved one last time before heading toward her desk and taking her seat. "Have you heard anything yet about when Katy will be getting her computer?" Mrs. Alvarez asked Christine as she turned to go.

"No, Mrs. Alvarez, I keep asking but I still haven't heard anything," Christine replied trying to sound as sincere as possible. "Mrs. Alvarez would really be upset if she knew that one hasn't even been ordered," she thought to herself as she finished her preparations for the morning. "I would just be happy if Katy's aide showed up for a change."

This was Katy's second year at Bay Side Elementary School. Her family had moved from the Midwest last year when Mr. Alvarez, a Navy officer, was transferred to the military base nearby. She entered the school district classified as a child with a mild mental disability. Katy had left a full-inclusion program at her old school where she was in a general education classroom. A special education teacher joined the classroom regularly to work with Katy and other classmates with special needs as well as to consult with their teacher. Katy also received individual speech and OT services three times a week. The individual educational plan (IEP) Katy brought with her was over ten pages long and very specific. Her school had even provided her with a computer for her personal use both at school and at home.

Much to her parents dismay, at Bay Side Katy was placed in a special education class for students who were educably mentally handicapped (EMH), with 30 minutes of group speech therapy twice a week and 20 minutes of OT once a week. The Alvarezes were informed parents in regard to Katy's rights as a child with special needs. They were well versed on IDEA, the federal law on special education and understood terms such as IEP, LRE, FAPE and assistive technology. They made no secret of the fact that they were dissatisfied with Katy's placement in Marge Greiner's EMH class and openly criticized her teaching methods and room set up. They knew it was well within their rights to request a classroom placement at Bay Side similar to the one Katy had received at her old school.

At the end of last year, Katy's IEP meeting had been very tense and lasted for hours. The Bay Side Child Study Team sat on one side of the table trying to convince the Alvarezes that Marge Greiner's class was the best and most appropriate placement for Katy. The Alvarezes sat on the other side insisting that Katy be reassigned to a general education class. Although Janet Myers, the Exceptional Student Education Specialist for Bay Side, was reluctant, Katy's placement was changed. Her parents also succeeded in having it documented in her IEP that she would have the assistance of a personal aide while in her general education classroom. In addition, because handwriting was a problem, Katy would again, as her previous IEP specified, have the use of a computer while in class.

Christine was not initially made aware of the sequence of events leading up to Katy's placement in her classroom. Katy's name had simply been included on her class roster at the beginning of the year. In the five years she had taught at Bay Side, Christine had often taught children with special needs, so when she read Katy's school records, she was not concerned. Even though the Alvarezes had been critical of Mrs. Greiner, Christine was developing a congenial relationship with them.

Christine thought that Katy fit in well with her students because, although she was ten, she was very small for her age. She was also well suited developmentally and although quiet and shy, appeared to be enjoying the company of the younger children. A special education aide position was allocated for Katy and Nancy Butler was hired to be her attendant. Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez were enthusiastic about the new placement and for the first few weeks of school Christine's class ran smoothly.

Katy was not the only child with special needs in Christine's class. In addition to the 25 typical children in the room, there were Katy and Carlos. Carlos had cerebral palsy and used a walker to maneuver the classroom. Because he was a heavy child with balance problems, he moved very slowly and fell occasionally. Going to the bathroom was particularly difficult for Carlos and often took up to 15 minutes, even with assistance. Although Carlos did not have a personal assistant, Katy's aide, Ms. Butler, was always willing to help Carlos too. Christine did not have a teacher’s aide of her own in the class so she really depended on Ms. Butler's assistance in order to teach her class and attend to Katy’s and Carlos's special needs.

Around the end of September, Janet began pulling Ms. Butler out of Christine's class to assist in other classrooms or supervise playground activities. She explained that they were having "coverage" problems and that Ms. Butler was needed elsewhere. At first, Christine had been understanding and tried to make due while Ms. Butler was out of the room. Janet had been nice enough to give her a ride to and from school every day so Christine tried to be cooperative. As it began to happen more often, however, she became less patient.

"Ms. Butler is Katy's aide, hired specifically for Katy! How can you pull her away just like that?" Christine argued when Janet came to pull Ms Butler from her room for the third time that week. "It's on her IEP that Ms. Butler is supposed to stay with her all the time. You know that!"

"Well, we just don't have enough aides to go around and we’ve had a lot of absences lately" Janet replied. "Besides, the Alvarezes wanted their daughter in a regular class so here she is; none of the other children have their own aide!" Janet left in a huff before Christine could protest any more.

The problem was that it was very difficult for Christine to meet the needs of all her children by herself. She really needed Ms. Butler to help with Carlos and Katy. Without her, Christine struggled to meet everyone's needs, and she worried that many children in the class were not getting the attention they deserved.

"Christine, you look really tired," her friend Teresa, a fellow teacher at Bay Side, remarked after school that day. "What's going on with Katy?"

"I feel as if I am stuck in the middle of a controvery between Janet and Katy's parents! Katy is sweet and tries hard to keep up but Janet keeps reassigning her aide," Christine replied. "I know that Katy's parents alienated a lot of people last year, but that's not Katy's or the rest of my class's fault. With Carlos and Katy both needing extra help and all the other kids needing me too, I don't know where to turn first. There is no way I can give everyone the help that they need but Janet doesn't seem to be concerned about that. I heard that last year she and Marge Greiner predicted that Katy would never make it in a regular class. It's almost as if they don't want her placement to work."

"Do you think Janet is reassigning Ms. Butler out of your room just to spite Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez?" Teresa asked. "How can she do that if Ms. Butler was hired specifically for Katy and it's written in her IEP? Doesn’t Janet understand that the Alvarezes could file a law suit against the school for that? Isn’t Katy supposed to be getting a computer too? What’s been done about that?"

"I’m pretty sure that nothing has been done about it" Christine answered as she shook her head. "I really feel like I need to tell Mrs. Alvarez about these things. I know she will be upset and complain, and Janet will blame me. Still, I think she has a right to know."

"Janet could make your life really miserable, Christine. I agree that Katy's mother should be made aware but I don’t think you should tell her yourself," Teresa advised. "Can't you just invite her to come help out in your class or something? Then she can see for herself that Ms. Butler isn’t there."

"That might work but I never know for sure when it's going to happen.   Besides Janet will still think I was behind it," Christine replied. "To complicate matters further, I depend on her for a ride to school every day. Still, I worry about what the Alvarezes will think of me for letting this go on so long? It’s like I’m not sticking up for their daughter. I don’t want to cause trouble for the school or lose my ride with Janet, but I can’t do justice to the children in my class if she keeps pulling Katy’s aide."

"Yes," Teresa agreed, "You really are stuck in the middle."


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. Define the terms IDEA, IEP, FAPE, LRE, and assistive technology.
  2. How do IDEA regulations regarding IEP’s apply to this case?
  3. What justification might Janet have for her actions concerning Katy’s aide assignments?
  4. What reasons might the school have for opposing the request to have Katy placed in a regular education class?
  5. What are Christine’s ethical responsibilities regarding Katy’s accommodations in her class?
  6. What is the school’s legal responsibility regarding obtaining assistive devices or accommodations listed in a student’s IEP?
  7. Why do you think that the Alvarezes succeeded in getting the aide and the computer listed in Katy’s IEP?
  8. What other concerns must Christine take into consideration while she contemplates her dilemma?
  9. What do you think that Christine should do? Why?
  10. Are there ways that Christine could arrange her classroom to better facilitate
    Katy, Carlos, and the other students?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addresses in the Case

Rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers, and schools as they relate to individuals with exceptional needs.

Demands of various learning environments (e.g., individualized instruction in general education classes).

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

Typical concerns of parents of individuals with exceptional learning needs and appropriate strategies to help parents deal with these concerns.

globe.gif (2512 bytes)For more information on IDEA and Assistive Technology

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