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It Takes A Village


Charlie, a ten-year-old who has always been in a self-contained EMH classroom, recently moved with his family to a new state. This will be his first experience in a school committed to inclusionary practices. The Special Education co-ordinator found a temporary placement for Charlie in a 5th-grade classroom until she could conduct a thorough assessment of his needs and abilities. The 5th-grade teacher is overheard in the teacher's lounge complaining about having Charlie in her class.


Margaret Ryder was not prepared for the scene that awaited her as she entered the main office and headed toward the principal's door. There stood a very exasperated looking mother, with a young boy sprawled at her feet, kicking and screaming loudly. "I just can't handle Charlie anymore!" Charlotte Simms exclaimed as she tried to calm her son. "I don't know why he is acting this way.  He loves school," she explained weakly as she began to cry.

"Please don't worry, Mrs. Simms, I am sure everything will be all right," replied Dr. Tomlinson, the school principal. "This is the beginning of the school year and I'm confident that Charlie will be just fine," added Dr. Tomlinson as he motioned Margaret into his office. "Mrs. Ryder is our Special Education Coordinator here at Mission Valley. I'm sure that she can help us get Charlie off to a good start," he said as Margaret entered the room. As they all sat down around Dr. Tomlinson's desk, Charlie crawled to the corner, and curled up into a fetal position, sucking his thumb.

Margaret Ryder had been the Special Education Coordinator for Mission Valley School for the past five years. She was very proud to be a member of the faculty at a school with such an excellent reputation for collaborative classroom models. The school prided itself on having the highest test scores of the 11 elementary schools in the district and had even received several county and state awards for innovative programs that they had piloted. Dr. Tomlinson, a young, dynamic principal, encouraged a cooperative atmosphere where all teachers were expected to work together. He was totally committed to inclusionary practices for all students, believing that what children with disabilities gained far more from their contact with typical children than they would in special classes.

"As Dr. Tomlinson was explaining," Margaret began, "at Mission Valley, Charlie will be included in a general education class with support from a special education teacher. Our students with special needs have managed to be successful in the mainstream classes because our faculty is very dedicated to this concept."

Having moved from another state over the summer, Mrs. Simms was desperate to enroll 10-year-old Charlie and his 15-year-old brother in school as soon as possible. She didn't know much about Charlie's placement at his last school other than it was a "special class for kids with learning problems." She brought a thin file folder containing Charlie's academic records. "I just need a break," she said dejectedly. "I've been cooped up with these children all summer long and I can't take anymore."

Margaret hated to tell Charlie's mother that she could not enroll Charlie without immunization records. "Call us as soon as you get them," she instructed Mrs. Simms. "In the meantime, I will read over his records to see what his needs are," she added as she glanced at Charlie still curled up in the corner.

When he comes back, don't let him out of your sight," Mrs. Randall warned as she stood to leave. "He tries to run away if he gets upset, but he's really a good boy most of the time," she added. "At least he plays well with other children. This school may be hard for him at first because it's different. He has always been in a special class," she explained as she nudged Charlie with her foot.

"You get to come home with me today, Charlie, but you can come back here soon," she sighed as he eagerly took her hand and followed her out of the office.

"When you bring Charlie back I will make some assessments and work toward finding him a classroom where he will be comfortable," Margaret said, trying to console Mrs. Simms. "This will be a tough one," she thought to herself.

Margaret had a lot on her mind as she began to page through the scant account of Charlie's past educational achievements. She knew that moving to a new school was not easy for any child and it would be especially tough transition for Charlie under the circumstances.

"Charlie's behavior seems very immature for a 10-year-old," Margaret thought, "and he has never been in a general education class." She wondered if Charlie's extreme display in the office that morning was typical of his behavior or a pent-up reaction to all the stress his family was experiencing due to the move.

Glancing through Charlie's file, she made mental notes of some of the difficulties documented there. Charlie had been diagnosed as having cognitive delays and recommended for a self-contained classroom for children with mental retardation. Observations indicated deficits in the areas of adaptive behavior, reading comprehension, and math skills. One teacher had written, "Charlie does not work well in large groups, has difficulties with transition, has explosive tantrums when upset, and runs away from any form of confrontation." An in-depth assessment was obviously necessary, but Margaret wouldn't be able to work it into her schedule for at least another two or three days.

Mrs. Simms called later to say that she had gotten the immunization records and would enroll Charlie in the morning. Margaret thought it was important for Charlie to begin his school year with the other kids even if it wasn't the class where he would ultimately be placed. "According to his age, he should be in the fifth grade, so until I know more about him, I think it would be best to place him there," Margaret reasoned. "If we expect normality maybe he will meet our expectations."

She approached Jenna Bullard, one of the fifth-grade teachers.  She had taught at Mission Valley for seven years. She worked well with children needing instructional modifications and this year had only 25 students in her class. "It might work," Margaret thought hopefully, but she couldn't forget the image of Charlie curled up on the floor of the office.

"Mrs. Bullard, I would like to speak with you about a child who has recently moved here from out-of-state," Margaret began. "For the past four years Charlie has been in a self-contained classroom for children with mental retardation. This will be his first experience in an inclusive class. His records were insufficient to indicate immediate placement, but according to his age he is a fifth grader. I want Charlie to experience the first few days of school in a regular classroom. Because you have only 25 students and you are so successful with children with disabilities, I was thinking that your class would be the best place for Charlie to start," Margaret said hopefully.

"Well, Mrs. Ryder, I think that would be great as long as you believe he can fit in with my other students," Jenna replied with a smile. "Normally, I would hesitate to accept a child without seeing his records," Jenna continued, "but I trust your judgment. I am sure you would tell me if there were more specific problems I should be aware of," Jenna said questioningly.

"That is just the problem. I really don't know if your class is appropriate for Charlie because I haven't had the opportunity to work with him yet. I won't be able to assess him for a few days. I was hoping he could start in your class, at least until I can make some permanent decisions about him," replied Margaret, explaining her dilemma.

"I think that will be fine then. Don't worry. I'll give it a shot and if I have any problems, I'll let you know. Bring him to my room tomorrow and we'll get acquainted," said Jenna.

"I'll make arrangements for one of the special education aides to accompany him if you like," Margaret offered gratefully.

"No thanks, I don't think that will be necessary, at least not yet," Jenna assured Margaret.

Margaret didn't want to taint Jenna's impression of Charlie by mentioning the behavior problems indicated in his records. Besides, she was not sure how accurate or recent the behavioral observations noted in his file were. She decided to let things unfold naturally and hoped Charlie would be influenced by the other children to act appropriately.

The next morning, Margaret took Charlie to Jenna's classroom. "Mrs. Bullard, I would like you to meet Charlie," Margaret said brightly as she gently placed her hands on Charlie's shoulders and turned him to face his new teacher. As Charlie's eyes focused on Jenna, his thumb instinctively made it's way to his mouth.

"Pleased to meet you, Charlie," responded Jenna as she extended her hand. With his thumb remaining in his mouth and his eyes downcast, Charlie made no response to Jenna's greeting. "Let's find you a desk and get you started," Jenna said as she guided Charlie into her room and toward the vacant desk she had prepared for him. Charlie gave Margaret an apprehensive glance as he was introduced to his new classmates.

Margaret was pleased that Jenna had welcomed Charlie so warmly into her class. Maybe this was a good sign. Charlie was obviously and understandably frightened. "He'll be fine," Margaret told herself as she returned to her own office and the mounting pile of paperwork on her desk.

Two days passed and Margaret thought Charlie was adapting well to his new environment. When she stopped in to visit, Charlie was attempting to do the assignment with the other children. He made a few minor outbursts, probably due to frustration, but nothing like the behaviors described in his records. Margaret made a mental note to arrange for Mrs. Williams, one of the special education aides, to help Charlie in Jenna's class for a while. "This is another example of what a great faculty we have here at Mission Valley," she told Dr. Tomlinson when he inquired about Charlie. "Everyone really bends over backwards to make these children successful in the mainstream."

The following day, Susan Wallace, the guidance counselor at Mission Valley, entered Margaret's office and sat down. "Margaret, I think we need to talk about that new little boy you placed in Jenna Bullard's fifth-grade class."

"He's in there only temporarily," Margaret explained, "until I have time to assess his abilities. Why, what's wrong?"

"Well, I overheard a rather heated discussion in the teacher's lounge at lunch today that I think you should know about." Margaret's heart sank as Susan described some extremely negative remarks Jenna Bullard had made to a group of teachers concerning Charlie being in her class.

"I can't believe she dumped this child in my classroom," Jenna had complained. The other staff members sitting at the table were sympathetic. They shared similar opinions on inclusion and questioned Margaret's assumption that all special education children belonged in regular classrooms.

"I don't have time to baby-sit.  I have 25 other children to teach. It's wrong for these children to be placed in our classes. That is what special education classes are for!" Jenna vented forcefully before the conversation shifted to another topic.

Margaret was shocked and disturbed by Jenna's expressed feelings about having Charlie in her class. She also felt it was  unprofessional for Jenna to discuss Charlie with other teachers. Margaret had assumed Jenna shared her beliefs and values about inclusion.

"I guess it wasn't such a good idea putting Charlie in there, even temporarily," she told Susan regretfully. "And here I was thinking we were all on the same wavelength. If she had a problem, why didn't she come to me before sounding off like that?"

"Well, she sure let every oneelse know about her problem," Susan remarked as she stood to leave. "Margaret, we have to consider the possibility that inclusion isn't the right answer for every child. Maybe Charlie would do better in the special class over at White Ridge Elementary. It will be a longer bus ride, but his mother might agree to that. Just consider it. One way or another, we need to find a a more appropriate place for Charlie--and soon," Susan asserted as she headed back toward the office.

As Margaret thought about their conversation, she became increasingly concerned that Jenna's negative remarks would influence other teachers' willingness to accept Charlie into their class. "This child might very well be the test of Mission Valley's commitment to inclusion," she thought to herself as

she considered her next step.


Discussion/Study Questions

1.    List what you learned/know about each of the characteristics in the case.

2.    What do you think is motivating the thoughts/actions of each of the characteristics?

3.    What are the issues/problems in the case?

Additional Questions

1.    What was the school's philosophy on inclusion?

2.    Did the administrator's and teacher's actions support that philosophy?

3.    Was the way Margaret approached Jenna about Charlie an effective method for promoting collaboration and inclusion?          Why or why not?

4.    Were Margaret's reasons for not disclosing Charlie's behavior problems, as indicated in his records, justified?

5.    Are Jenna's perceptions of Charlie justified?

6.    If Margaret had been more forthcoming about Charlie's records, could the outcome been different?

7.    How do you balance the needs of one child against the needs of the rest of the class?

8.    In what context is it appropriate for teachers to discuss students?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed In The Case

Major Areas:

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

Developing individual student programs working in collaboration with team members.

Other Areas:

Ethical practices for confidential communication to others about individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Educational implications of characteristics of various exceptionalities.

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


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