Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

The Self-Contained Class

12/20/2016 | Published by: Kelly Mastin

As the parent of a child with a disability, I face difficult decisions all the time. I choose doctors, therapists, and caregivers. And I choose school settings.

As mandated in IDEA (the federal law ruling special education), public school systems must offer a continuum of placements for children who have disabilities. These placements include segregated classes for children with significant disabilities to general education classes with a few special education services—and everything in between. It’s up to the ARD Committee to decide which setting is most appropriate for my child.

With children, like my daughter, who need a lot of support throughout the school day, the school will recommend a special education self-contained class.

Teachers reason that the child will get the one-on-one time she needs—that she will benefit from the specialized instruction available to her there. The educators say she will be safe—away from other kids who are bigger, faster, and who might bully her. They reason that the curriculum will move along at a pace that is good for her. They explain that the special therapies that she needs are available there. And everyone around the table agrees that the self-contained class is the best fit for her.

But it seems that the committee has failed to think about a few very important things.

  • In that self-contained class, my daughter will not hear the full grade-level curriculum that the other students will be learning down the hall. Her curriculum will focus on prerequisite skills and will be missing the richness of the full curriculum. There are things taught in the general education classroom that my daughter will never hear.
  • In that self-contained class, my daughter will not have the benefit of non-disabled peer models. In the self-contained class, her only peers will be other students who struggle in communication, self-help, and learning. She will miss out on having peers who can tutor, guide, and set an example.
  • In that self-contained class, my daughter will have more chance of being abused. Abuse is rarer in a general education setting. Students see and report what is going on. Students in a self-contained class usually have difficulty communicating and cannot readily tell trusted adults what goes on in class. The closed doors and separation of these classes results in a “lack of oversight [which] has resulted in an alarming increase in reported incidents of student abuse.”
  • Special education is a service, not a place. Special therapies and instruction can take place anywhere. My daughter can get those supports in the general education classroom. Perhaps no one at her school has seen it done that way before, but it really can be done.

As parents, we must carefully weigh our options before just agreeing to a self-contained recommendation.  We must be thoughtful in deciding what setting is right for our children.


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