Kathy Bates
little wooden stick figure cutouts of people of different colors and abilities

Hi Kathy!

I currently have a student in my kindergarten class who started in January after being in a segregated setting for students with complex needs. I am thrilled he is with us, and my work with him centers around the concept of the least dangerous assumption– that he is competent and will achieve alongside his non-disabled peers, using the appropriate tools, supports, and necessary modifications.

I am finding a lot of pushback from other professionals in the building who provide services to him; in my opinion, they are defining the student by, and limiting him to, his diagnosis (nonverbal autism). This then leads to tense conversations around what I should or should not be providing academically for him in my classroom, or what is "meaningful" to be doing with him.

This is probably a LOADED question, but how do I best advocate for this student and provide him equitable opportunities and learning access, when the philosophies of the team working with him are so varied and seemingly in conflict with one another?

Dear Kindergarten Teacher,

Thank you for your question. First, let me say that you are definitely on the right path. Presuming competence is always the best way to begin with every student. This student has only been in a non-segregated classroom for less than two months and, as with any kindergartner, he is still getting used to the whole concept of school. I think he needs time to settle into this new environment.

The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), one major component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), supports students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) being educated alongside other non-disabled students in classrooms as much as is appropriate. So you’re on the right path by advocating for your student to learn alongside his peers in your classroom.

As for his team of professionals, I think it would be helpful if they would participate in some professional development training that would allow them to examine their educational biases. More specifically, they need training in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The educational team could take advantage of several online DEI training courses that are available. Ultimately, no one is ever truly an expert because there’s always more to learn. The team needs to allow this little boy to be the teacher. Everyone needs to observe and learn from him. The Parent Information Center (PIC) also offers free training on IDEA and its rules and regulations which your team could participate in.

It’s clear to me that you believe in this student. So maybe try to make the IDEA the common ground for the beginning and ending of every conversation or meeting with your team. It would be nearly impossible for this student to learn important social skills in a segregated classroom. He should be learning alongside his peers. The IDEA supports this approach. It has been my experience that students respond better and achieve more when their teachers work as a team.