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HCDE hears three-year plan on how to integrate students with disabilities in schools

According to Adams, some students with special needs are taken away from their zoned schools and put into cluster sites with other students with disabilities. For Deborah Rausch and her son, Luka Hyde, a student with Down Syndrome, that policy turned into a federal lawsuit against Hamilton County Schools five years ago. (image WTVC)

There is now a plan in place for a Hamilton County Schools to be more inclusive when it comes to students with disabilities.

For the last two years, the Chattanooga Inclusive Education Working Group, made up of parents, educators and organizations in the area, met with school leaders to encourage integration between general education students and students with special needs. In 2016, News Channel 9 looked at how the county's inclusion rate compared to other districts of similar size and found dramatic differences.

Representatives of the group say they've looked at how other school systems incorporate their students with special needs into a mainstream classroom, and it often benefits every student involved. At Thursday night's school board meeting, Garfield Adams, the district's director of exceptional education, promoted the concept of "evidence-based inclusion" and presented a three year plan on how to implement it in Hamilton County.

"What I'm looking at, is for each student to be in their zoned schools," said Adams. "I think it's important for these students to be in their learning communities, and to go from elementary, to middle, to high school within their learning communities."

Adams was joined at the podium by Cale Horne, Chattanooga Inclusive Education's co-chair.

Putting students with special needs in the same classroom as general education students is their goal. According to Adams, some students with special needs are taken away from their zoned schools and put into cluster sites with other students with disabilities. For Deborah Rausch and her son, Luka Hyde, a student with Down Syndrome, that policy turned into a federal lawsuit against Hamilton County Schools five years ago.

"Luka was in his zoned school at Normal Park Elementary and at that IEP meeting for the third grade, they just decided that he wouldn't go there anymore," Rausch said, "[The district said] he should go to Red Bank Elementary and put him in a segregated special education setting."

She and her son attended Thursday night's inclusion presentation. It's something that's been in the works by the working group since 2016. Adams says in order for the three-year plan to work, it needs to be implemented correctly.

"With anything, there needs to be professional development," Adams said. "So what we want to do is provide professional development for Ex-ed teachers, Gen-ed teachers."

Adams emphasized each student's individual education plan, for IEP, will determine if inclusion is right for them. Having the option, however, is what's important.

Teachers and training is what Rausch said impressed her most about the plan.

"The focus on teacher training and teacher support is incredibly important," she said. "I mean, my personal belief is that all students can be included in a regular ed setting. It just takes some support."

A judge ruled in favor of Luka Hyde's family saying he rights were denied. HCDE appealed the ruling, and now the family will travel to Ohio next next week to attend a hearing in a Court of Appeals.


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