July 3, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
When students return to Hartford's schools in September, thousands
will find new classmates beside them as the district moves to integrate
students previously assigned to self-contained special education
classrooms into regular education classes.
The process, referred to as "mainstreaming," comes
four years after the state settled a lawsuit brought by a West
Hartford parent who wanted his son to be in classes with students
who didn't have disabilities. The case, P.J. vs. State of Connecticut,
was filed 10 years before the June 2001 settlement and requires
the state to support local school districts and to monitor compliance
with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act - a law that
requires schools to educate students with disabilities in the least
"It's about doing what's right for all students," said
Romain Dallemand, the city's new assistant superintendent for special
education, who says he is making compliance a priority in the city.
Currently, students who are mentally retarded and those with speech
and language, hearing, emotional and behavioral and other disabilities
are bused around the district to attend special programs. The new
plan calls for returning all of these students - more than 1,000
children - to their neighborhood schools. The return to neighborhood
schools has the added benefit of helping children make friends
near home so they'll have people to play with on the weekends,
A school-by-school review of transfers shows some schools will
end up with higher numbers of special education students and some
will have fewer or the same number. At Betances Elementary School,
for example, 32 of the school's 58 special education students will
move out and 32 different children will transfer into the school.
Hartford Public High School will lose 57 of its 251 special education
students, but 158 new students will transfer in and blend into
the regular classrooms.
Cathy Carpino, president of the teachers' union, has warned school
board members and Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry that regular
education teachers, particularly new teachers, will need a lot
of training to integrate students with disabilities into their
Dallemand said teachers will receive additional training.
Children's advocates outside the district lauded school officials
for making the shift, but they cautioned that the pace of the change
could make all the difference in its success.
"I'm very supportive of this idea," said state Child
Advocate Jeanne Milstein, who has strongly objected to one of the
district's special education programs called Reach, which segregates
youngsters with extreme behavioral problems. "But I caution
that it needs to be done in a very organized and thoughtful way
so the programs are in place and the supports are in place."
The Reach program for elementary
school children, which buses elementary-aged children from around
the city, and its companion program in the middle schools, called
Tops, will be eliminated. "If
we want students to learn to behave properly, we have to put them
in a setting where they can learn," Dallemand said. "They
cannot learn what they have never had an experience to see."
Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children's
Advocacy at the University of Connecticut law school, represents
some of the children who will be integrated into the mainstream
classrooms. She, like Milstein, said she is glad to see the district
moving toward integration but said the plan should be phased in.
The abrupt change, Stone said, does not leave time for teams of
educators and parents to convene and create new individualized
plans for each student.
"I think it should just slow down," Stone said. "Some
of the schools are so huge and a lot of the kids in special education
programs have trouble coping with huge schools and they have a
lot of needs. It takes a lot of careful planning."
Dallemand said the district does have experience blending special
education students with the general population. He points to SAND
Elementary School, where Principal Cecelia J. Green integrated
her kindergarten and fifth- and sixth-grade classes this past year.
The blended kindergarten class was taught by a special education
and a regular education teacher. In the upper grades, a special
education teacher moved between classrooms to work closely with
Elnora Lockwood, grandmother of a sixth-grader who was integrated
into one of the SAND classes, said she was initially worried that
he would not receive the attention he needed. But she said she
was delighted that the move improved his self-esteem and attitude
"He feels like he is a part now. He likes going to school.
Before ... he was isolated," she said.
Kindergarten teacher Emery Tapley, who has 31 years of experience,
said that some parents of his non-disabled students were initially
concerned about the integration, so he invited them to observe
the class. The parents could identify just two of seven special
education students, he said. Academic tests showed that his class
kept up with other classes, he said, and that in some cases, such
as math, the special education students outperformed the regular
"This was the best experience of my life," Tapley
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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