Last issue, The Oracle delved into the Special Education protest that occurred outside of Gunn. This issue takes a look at the inclusion model that has been incorporated in general education classes for the last two years. According to Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Director of Special Ed. Services Holly Wade, part of inclusion rests with co-teaching, which involves a balance of Special Ed. students and regular lane students who attend class with two teachers in the room. “Two teachers in the classroom allow for more chances to get individualized attention, for learning to get broken down and teaching to be differentiated for different types of learners,” Wade said. “You can create smaller learning groups [and] benefit from both teachers’ experience and expertise in the areas where their strengths lie.”
Social studies teacher Ariane Tuomy, who co-teaches with Special Ed. teacher Terry Jacobs, believes that her classes are at the same level of academic rigor as regular lane classes but take place in a more intimate setting where teachers can better understand the skill sets of individual students. “When students work independently, we are both able to answer questions,” Tuomy said.
According to Tuomy, she and Jacobs plan ahead to accommodate students’ strengths in class. “We take a look at some of the things that might be difficult for the students,” she said. “We troubleshoot before there’s a problem.” Tuomy noted that working together with Jacobs encourages and models cooperation for the students. “It’s a learning environment we approach as a team,” she said. “It would be nice if that [were] translatable to all of the classes at Gunn.”
Co-taught freshman Tatiana Sreenivasan appreciates how both teachers are able to contribute aid, especially in one-on-one interactions. “It’s easier to communicate,” she said. Co-taught freshman Emilia Boultbee also believes that more attention is provided with two teachers in the room. “It’s really [beneficial] in subjects that are harder for me,” Boultbee said.
According to co-taught freshman Sam Lysaght, co-teaching includes an exchange of diverse opinions. “When you have two [teachers], usually both of them talk about one topic so you can see their different views,” Lysaght said. Another valued advantage, according to co-taught sophomore Emma Wager, is the fact that substitute teachers are not necessary when one teacher is absent. “If one of the teachers is missing, you still have the other teacher to help you and you don’t get stuck with a sub,” she said.
According to co-taught freshman Mark Lassen, the division between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students is not highly noticeable in class. “It depends on the [Special Ed.] student,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s a little bit more obvious.” However, Boultbee said that often, it is the teachers’ behaviors that specify which students are in Special Ed. “It’s obvious when the teacher makes more of an effort,” she said.
According to Boultbee, bullying between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students is not common. “I’ve never seen bullying because the student is Special Ed. or not,” she said. Nonetheless, co-taught freshman Zoe Tal notes that occasionally, peers may behave differently around Special Ed. students than they would otherwise but “I never perceive it as coming from a place of bullying,” she said.
Along with expanding co-teaching, omitting disproportionality has been one of the district’s long-term objectives, Superintendent Dr. Kevin Skelly said. Disproportionality, as defined by the California Department of Education, is the over-representation of students of one ethnicity in Special Ed. services in relation to their population on campus. “[We want to ensure that] while every student who has an identified disability receives the support they need, we try to make sure the percentage of kids from different ethnic groups is equal to the percentage we have in Special Ed.,” Skelly said. “Making sure [Special Ed.] students have higher levels of achievement is important to us, too.” Wade emphasizes that the focus of Special Ed. services is on college and career preparation. “We hope that our instruction [and] emotional, behavior and social supports will allow all of our students to prepare for the future,” she said. “We want to ensure [that] all our students from PAUSD have access to all the things they desire so they can [remain] a contributing member of the community they choose.”
While the recent Office of Civil Rights’ (OCR) report stated that PAUSD had failed to protect a disabled student from disability-based harassment, Skelly said that the district recently changed board policies to reflect the best methods for resolving bullying conflicts. “We [want] to be more consistent in terms of what steps we take,” he said. “We report [bullying incidents], we investigate them, and training the staff on that has been part of the OCR agreement.”
Regardless, Skelly continues to believe that PAUSD is a district full of opportunities with a satisfying education to offer its students, whether they are Special Ed. or not. “There are a whole variety of places where we’re supporting [students],” he said. “[Because] collectively, we’re all responsible for student learning.”