Inclusion may not be for everyone

By Donna McCollum - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - There are some students who never leave the special education wing.

"We have set high lofty goals," LISD Special Education Director Deidra Harrison said. "We've raised our expectations, which have been good. Some of them are still very unrealistic."

All are due to extreme mental and physical handicaps. Out of the 1,100 special ed students in the Lufkin school district, about 250 are in this category.

"They're coming to us with a lot of personal problems that we're dealing with," Harrison said.

Yet no matter how severe, specialized instruction can stimulate minds, bodies and to some degree lifestyles.

Harrison's realistic approach works in favor for a 21-year old named Carlos.

"He's been with us for the past four or five years when he came to us from Mexico," Harrison said. "He had never been in school before. He had very significant disabilities."

The disabilities get worse, instead of better.

"He does not mainstream with the others because of his physical disability and it's just not appropriate," Harrison said.

Severe communication and physical restrictions create enormous limitations. Specialized instruction and tools enable Carlos to learn on a level appropriate for him.

Harrison refuses to do as some districts are compelled to do with the severely disabled.

"Sometimes they just go in a classroom and they sit at the back of the classroom and they count that as inclusion, but they're not included with the activities because they're not able to do that," Harrison said.

Teaching a special education student is like walking a beam. There's a delicate balance in providing their needs.

Deidra Harrison knows this through her many years of experience as a former teacher of emotionally disturbed children. She knows not to take any unnecessary risks.

"These kids are very, very bright," Harrison said. "They come with a lot of baggage, you know, a lot of emotional problems. So we try to give them a lot of counseling, lots of social skills while at the same time trying to give them academics."

Yet even an hour in a regular classroom would be unfair to Carlos. Specialized attention is serving him well.

"Will you graduate this year?" Harrison said. "Yep, go through a graduation ceremony and everything. So he'll do great. He's been a success story to us."

©2009 KTRE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.