Fair Means…

Faced with the mandated policy of full inclusion, a special education teacher attempts to insure that all of her students receive an appropriate education. Unfortunately, the teachers and students at Longdale Middle School are not cooperating.

Staff members at Longdale Middle School attend a beginning of the year inservice meeting to discuss the new special education requirements.

“FAIR DOES NOT MEAN EQUAL.” Staff members noticed the statement on the overhead as soon as they walked into the media center.

“I wonder what this is about?” Bart Jones murmured to the teacher sitting next to him.

“I’m so glad to see everyone back,” Florence Abrams, principal of Longdale Middle School, began. “Hopefully everyone had a great summer, got plenty of rest, and is ready to start a brand new year. I’m sure that you have already heard that we’ve made a few changes this summer. I’ve asked Celia Cook to talk to us about one of the bigger changes.”

Celia, the special education department head, stood up. Gesturing toward the overhead screen, she began, “I’d like you to keep this phrase in mind as I talk about our new initiative.” She then pointed to a wall in the media center where she had taped two one-dollar bills. “To illustrate what I mean by ‘fairness’ I would like to ask Donna Banks and Bryan Seaforth to go stand by those dollar bills.”

Donna was a petite woman and Bryan was quite tall, a former basketball player-turned coach. Celia continued, “Ok, each of you take a dollar bill from the wall.” Chuckles ensued as Bryan quickly grasped his dollar and Donna attempted to jump for hers. She was unable to reach it. Smiling, Celia pulled a small step stool over to the wall. Using this, Donna was able to reach the dollar.

“Was that fair?” asked Celia. Responses such as “sure,” “well, it wasn’t fair at first,” and “she just needed a little boost,” came back.

“That’s my point,” continued Celia, “FAIR DOES NOT MEAN EQUAL. I heard one of you say that it wasn’t fair at first. If you look up the word ‘fair’ in a dictionary, you will find that the definition implies that each party gets what she needs, not that each party receives the same treatment. As we implement a new initiative this year, I am asking you to be ‘fair’ to our special education students.”

See Webster’s definition of “fair” below:

“The central office has suggested that in order to keep up with trends in special education, our school should begin practicing inclusion as fully as possible. They would like most of our students with disabilities to be instructed in the regular classroom for the majority of the school day. Here at Longdale, I think we can do better. I think we can reach full inclusion, and serve as a model for the other schools in the district. Therefore, we have elected to instruct all special education students in the regular classroom for the entire school day. The teachers from the special education department will come into your classrooms to team-teach classes that include students with identified disabilities. I know that with the right instructional accommodations, our special education students will make progress in the regular classroom.”

At that point, Celia put a list on the overhead:

See Accommodations for Special Education Students below:

For the next 40 minutes, Celia discussed how accommodations for special education students could be made. When the staff meeting ended, Bart muttered to his neighbor, “There’s no way this can possibly work.”

It is late September. Bart Jones is reviewing homework problems with his 7th grade math class.

“Okay, okay! Everyone settle down.” Bart Jones began his seventh grade math class. The students knew the drill—get out your homework and listen.


Mr. Jones’s Class

It was only the third week of school, but Louis felt like he had it all figured out. To Louis’s knowledge, Mr. Jones never really noticed whether he was checking his homework, so he stopped correcting it. Also, Louis discovered that he could predict when he would be called on. Mr. Jones always went down the rows asking for solutions to homework problems—so with six rows of five desks, he calculated that he would either be number 4 or number 29 to answer. It had taken him one week to figure out the pattern, and this discovery dramatically decreased the time that Louis devoted to homework.

“We’re going to do things a bit differently today,” said Mr. Jones. He began to walk around the room and count off students.

“Five,” Mr. Jones said as he touched Louis’ desk. “Now pick up your homework and get with your group. All the one’s here, two’s here, three’s here.” After some bustle, the students found themselves in groups.

“I want you to compare homework answers in your group. If you have differences, work together to find out why. Come up with answers that everyone agrees on.” Mr. Jones assigned six problems to each group. Louis looked around at his group and felt a lump in his throat when he saw Sasha, the class brain. He took an extra long time poking around in his book bag, realizing that his two worked problems would likely result in humiliation.

Louis raised his hand. “Mr. Jones, I can’t find my homework.”

Bart Jones was not surprised. He looked around for Ms. Petersen, the special education teacher who “co-taught” with him, but she was busy with Thomas, a student whose cerebral palsy left him dependent upon a wheel chair and an alternative communication device. A familiar feeling of frustration came over him. Louis never seemed to complete any of his assignments on time. He made a mental note to talk to Celia, the special education department head. Bart wanted to address this idea of “fair not meaning equal.” Did Celia expect Louis to receive special treatment even when he wasn’t putting forth any effort? Why should he give Louis special treatment when he didn’t even try? How could that be fair to the rest of the class? And how was any of this fair to Louis? He was not getting the help he needed.

Each day after school Louis Brightman goes home and waits for his mother to return from work.

“Hi Louis,” called Mrs. Brightman. She was running a little late from work, so she hurried to get dinner going. She could hear the TV and the sounds of Louis laughing on occasion, so she knew he was home. Once dinner was started, Mrs. Brightman went into the den. “Louis, how was school today?”


“How about homework, do you have any?”

“Nope,” Louis’ eyes remained glued to the TV.

“Louis, what’s going on? You haven’t had homework since school began. This doesn’t seem quite right.”

“I dunno, I just don’t have any.”

She could not believe Louis’ teachers had not assigned homework, yet she had not received any notes from Celia Cook, Louis’ special education teacher. Last year Ms. Cook regularly sent notes home when Louis was missing assignments. She thought about the last several conferences she’d had with Louis’s teacher the year before; most focused on Louis’ tendency to neglect homework. All of his teachers knew about this; surely she would have heard something if his homework was not being completed.

Celia Cook, the special education department head, checks email at her teacher computer.

Celia Cook had started the year excited about the inclusion program. She believed in inclusion. Like some experts in her field, Celia felt that labels were damaging to a student’s self esteem. In her opinion, students with special needs learned more from peers in the regular classroom than they learned in segregated resource rooms. In Celia’s mind, inclusion was not about interpreting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or even interpreting the research regarding the outcomes associated with inclusion. For Celia, inclusion was simply the RIGHT thing to do.

Celia had known the move to full inclusion was coming, so she had spent a considerable amount of time last year preparing her students for the transition. She had been particularly excited about Louis. Although he had disabilities in reading and written communication, he excelled in math; his standardized test scores put him at the 90th percentile. This year he would be in the regular classroom, not only for math, but for reading and writing as well. Celia hoped that with this change Louis would no longer be regarded as a “special ed kid.” She hoped that students and teachers would begin to see him as a regular kid, one who excels in math and needs some help in reading and writing. A boost in self-esteem would do wonders for Louis, she thought.

And now, as the year was progressing, Celia was beginning to worry. Last spring, she had spent extra time in the regular classrooms, studying the routines and talking with the teachers who would work with her students. She had held a staff development session to prepare teachers for the accommodations they would need to make for these students.

Celia Cook

Celia Cook

Then, over the summer, five teachers left — one for retirement, one for motherhood, and three for relocation. This meant five brand new classroom teachers. These teachers could barely control regular kids, let alone kids with special needs. Another concern was that some of the experienced teachers were opposed to full inclusion – Bart Jones, for example. Celia had only talked briefly with Bart back in September, but he made it clear that he didn’t want any special education students in his class. He said that he didn’t have the skills to teach special education students. Rumor had it that Bart had even voiced his objections to the teachers’ union representative.

Reading the email from Bart, Celia hit “reply” and typed, “I am anxious to talk with you about Louis. He is one of my best students. How about tomorrow afternoon in my room?”

Celia Cook and Bart Jones meet to discuss Louis Brightman and his lack of progress in the regular math classroom.

“Hi, Bart, I’m glad we finally have a chance to talk,” Celia said as Bart entered the classroom. “I’ve been meaning to come by before now, but there have been so many special education changes that we’ve been up to our ears in meetings.”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you about Louis. He isn’t completing his work, and his grades are suffering. I know that he may need extra time to complete work, and I have tried extending the deadlines for him, but he just doesn’t put any effort into it. I have doubts about his ability to keep up in my class.”

Celia opened a file on her desk and pulled out some papers. “You may not be aware of this, but Louis has always scored very high in math.” She passed the recent standardized test results to Bart. “I was really hoping that he would be successful in your class this year.”

See Stanford Achievement Test STET Results for Louis Brightman below:

See Louis Brightman’s IEP below:

“I can see that Louis has the ability, but I can’t seem to get any work out of him. I only have two test grades from him. He did OK on the tests, got a ‘C’ and a low ‘B’, but when I average that with his zeros in homework, he’s failing.”

“Why don’t you let me talk to Louis?” suggested Celia.

“Celia, that’s fine, but I don’t think that talking is going to solve the problem. Louis needs more support. He needs the resource class that we had last year, where someone met with him daily to make sure he was organized and prepared for all of his classes. This type of thing isn’t happening with full inclusion, and Louis is slipping through the cracks.”

“Bart, I really did not want to bring this up, but maybe some of these problems could be helped if you let Ms. Petersen team-teach, instead of just circulating to help the special ed kids.”

“First of all, Ms. Petersen is a special ed teacher therefore she should help the special ed kids. Secondly, she’s a brand new teacher with no training to teach seventh grade math. She told me this herself! I’ve got to get these kids ready to take the state test in May. I’m the one who will be held accountable, so I’m the one who teaches.”

Celia’s exasperation was evident. “Look, I’ll talk to Louis and we’ll see what happens. Bart, you and I have to sort this out, or Louis will lose out in a big way. Maybe the two of us should meet with Mrs. Abrams.”

“That’s fine. Let me know when and where.” Bart left the room feeling like he had gotten nowhere. If the special education teachers would not help Louis, and the kids like him, what was he supposed to do? He needed to talk to somebody. Florence Abrams really let Celia run the show as far as special education was concerned. He should probably talk to the union rep again. Maybe it was time to put some of this on paper.

See Bart’s letter to his union representative below:

Celia attends a weekly team meeting for teachers in her pod. Teachers discuss curriculum as well as student progress.

As Celia left the meeting, she was beginning to doubt the rationale for including Louis, or any of her students, in the regular classroom. Not only was Louis struggling in language arts, now he was falling apart in everything else.

Celia stops Louis in the hallway to check up on him.

As students shuffled through the hall, Celia noticed Louis lagging behind. With everyone else out of earshot, she approached him.

Celia meets with Bart and Mrs. Abrams to discuss Louis and the policy of full inclusion.

At three o’clock on a Thursday, the last thing Celia wanted to do was meet with Bart and Mrs. Abrams. After Bart sent that letter to the union rep, though, the situation could be ignored no more. Mrs. Abrams seemed perturbed by the letter. Celia was hoping that she would just go ahead and let Bart have it. It was time that he got on board with the program. As Celia arrived at Mrs. Abram’s office she saw Bart already seated. She greeted them both and took a seat next to Bart.

“Celia and Bart,” Mrs. Abrams began. “I understand that we have reached an impasse regarding Louis Brightman and the policy of full inclusion. So, as I understand it, we are meeting today to find a solution, agreed?”

“Correct,” Celia responded. “Unless we work as a team, all of our kids will lose out. Full inclusion will only work if everyone is on board.”

“Before we go any further I think we should take a look at this article that was sent to me by the union rep. Apparently a school district in California is being investigated for implementing a policy of full inclusion. They are charged with violating special education law.” Bart handed Celia and Mrs. Abrams a copy of the article.


See Critical Perspective on this case by Devery Mock below:

Below is a critical perspective on the Fair Means teaching case. After reading the perspective, go to the discussion area and record your response. Then read the responses of others. 

A great debate is raging in the field of special education. Numerous experts have lined up to either extol the virtues or enumerate the failings of “full inclusion.” The word “inclusion” has become a powerful word. Its very utterance conjures up a variety of images. For some people the images are of students, able and disabled alike, working and thriving in the same classroom setting. Others see pictures of students, stigmatized and alienated, trying desperately to keep up with the pace of their more able peers. When I hear the word “inclusion” I see the faces of children that I have taught.

I see the face of Tina. Tina was a beautiful, six year old girl, born five weeks premature with fetal alcohol syndrome. Her parents had not requested, nor had she been offered, any educational services prior to beginning school. For the first three days of kindergarten, Tina wailed inconsolably. After Tina stopped crying, other problems became apparent. Tina would often bite, kick or hit those around her, including her teacher. Her speech was unintelligible. She lacked much of the knowledge and vocabulary considered “normal” for six-year-old children. The only color that she knew was “blue,” and a full month of instruction passed before she could identify the color red. Tina’s teacher was a kind, compassionate woman who had been teaching for over ten years. She was also a woman who was very frustrated. Even with a full time assistant, Tina was wreaking havoc on a daily basis. It seemed that neither Tina nor her peers were making very much progress that kindergarten year.

I also see the face of Sean. Sean was a fourteen-year-old eighth grader who loved football and cars. At five foot eleven, he stood taller than most of the people in his school, including his teachers. Sean read on the early first grade level. Early in his school career, Sean had been labeled “learning disabled.” By the eighth grade Sean came to the special education department for all of his content area instruction. In addition, he came to my room to for reading instruction. Sean had severe phonological deficits–he had great difficulty learning and manipulating sounds. For Sean, learning to read was destined to be a slow, laborious process. By the end of his eighth grade year, Sean had mastered four of the five short vowel sounds. He could read many consonant-vowel-consonant words. Sean was proud of his achievement. He wanted to learn to read before he finished high school.

I also see the face of Travis. Travis was a challenge. Like his brother, he had been identified and labeled behaviorally and emotionally handicapped. Some days I loved having Travis in my class. He was quick, smart, and funny. Other days I did not know if any of us would survive this self-contained, high school English class. Travis was explosive. The smallest incident could send Travis into a rage that lasted hours if not days. One day Travis was fiddling with some items in his desk. His neighbor told him to stop. Travis stood, proclaimed that no [expletive], [expletive] was going to tell him what to do, threw the contents of his desk at his neighbor, and then ran out of my classroom. Although Travis’s behavior was disruptive, it was not altogether unexpected. The students in my English class had a variety of educational goals, many of which were behaviorally focused. On days when we were not studying Shakespeare, conjunctions, or hyperbole, we were focusing on more effective ways to manage and control behavior. Travis had simply determined the focus of instruction for that particular day.

These are the students that I think about when I hear the word “inclusion.” If time and space allowed I would describe many more students–students who for one reason or another needed special attention–students who just couldn’t make it in the regular classroom–students who needed “special” education. These students are the reason that I became a special education teacher. In fact, they, and students like them, are the reason that special education was developed. Parents, teachers, and students all agreed that some children had needs that could not be met in the regular classroom. They needed something special.

Tina, Sean, and Travis needed something special. Without some level of individualized instruction these students would be unlikely to make it through the school year, if even the school day. For Tina, Sean and Travis, navigating the school experience was treacherous and frightening. The regular classroom demanded that Tina communicate with words, that Sean learn through reading, and that Travis quell the emotional storms inside his head. While all of these demands make excellent long-term goals, these are not yet behaviors that the students can demonstrate upon command. These are behaviors that must be learned; thus, these are behaviors that must be taught. Placing students like Tina, Sean, or Travis in the regular classroom and expecting them to succeed without any assistance is akin to placing these very same students in row boat in the middle of the sea and expecting them to make their way to shore without any oars. The students have no way to accomplish what is expected of them. Each wave takes them further out to sea and every minor storm threatens to capsize them. Special education is the lifeboat that comes their aid. This lifeboat takes them to shore, provides safety when the waters become too rough, and delivers the instruction that is necessary for learning to navigate journeys of their own.

In the case “Fair Means” Louis Brightman is trying to make it to the shore and the lifeboat is nowhere in sight. Unfortunately, the waters are becoming quite rough. Celia Cook is no longer providing resource assistance in language arts. She has also stopped instructing Louis in academic study skills. Teachers that were opposed to inclusion have been forced to include Louis in their regular classes. Louis is failing to complete homework assignments. Teachers believe that he just isn’t trying. No one seems to know what “fair” means for Louis.

When full inclusion was implemented at Longdale Middle School, the resource room setting was brought to an end. Ideally, in a full inclusion model, students with special needs are to have their needs met in a regular classroom collaboratively taught by the regular education and the special education teacher. Unfortunately, even when two teachers are present in one classroom it is still difficult to meet the needs of all the students, especially when the needs of one student are so radically different from the needs of the others. Louis Brightman has educational needs that are quite different from those of the average eighth grader. Although Louis scored in the 46th percentile in vocabulary and the 53rd percentile in word study skills on the Stanford Achievement Test 9th edition, two scores within one standard deviation of the mean, we know that he has difficulty in reading. According to his IEP, Louis reads below the fifth grade level. He is at least three years behind his peers in reading ability. In order to prevent this gap from widening and leaving this student further behind, Louis needs specific instruction in reading. Basic reading instruction is not usually a component of the eighth grade language arts curriculum. How is this instruction to occur?

The implementation of full inclusion has further implications for Louis. The instruction in basic academic skills such as organization, homework management, and note taking that once occurred in the resource room must now take place in the regular classroom. According to Louis’s IEP, the school is legally bound to provide this type of instruction. Where is this instruction occurring? It seems unlikely that Louis is being taught these skills in his math class–his lack of homework is the reason he is failing that class. Additionally, in Science, Social Studies, and Language Arts, classes where students are expected to glean a large amount of knowledge through reading, it seems improbable that Louis would have extra instructional time available to be taught these skills. Louis’s instructional needs have remained the same; yet, amount of support and assistance that Louis receives has decreased.

In his IEP, Louis is described as a student with an “affinity for math.” Therefore it seems probable that Louis would excel in math. However, this is not the case. Louis is failing math. His teacher, Bart Jones, stated that Louis was not completing his homework assignments. To individuals familiar with Louis’s IEP, this is not surprising. Louis has IEP objectives designed to improve the regularity with which he completes and submits homework. Thus it seems unreasonable to hold Louis to the standards used for other students in his class. He is in need of instructional accommodations. Bart has not implemented any of these accommodations; he feels such accommodations are “unfair”. Some readers may disagree with Bart’s perspective; however, Bart is entitled to his opinions. In fact, prior to the beginning of school Bart explained that he did not feel prepared to teach students with learning disabilities. In spite of this, Louis was placed in Bart’s classroom. It is not surprising that Louis is failing math. What is surprising is that anyone would expect any other outcome.

Full inclusion has brought many changes to life of Louis Brightman. Louis is no longer receiving the instructional support that he needs. He is beginning to fail in the subject at which he is most adept. The waves are carrying Louis further from the shore and he is danger of going under. The policy of full inclusion has eradicated the system that kept Louis safely afloat. Some may argue that this case is a poor example of full inclusion. I would agree, but I would also ask how we could expect full inclusion to work any better than it did for Louis. Proponents of full inclusion argue that the placement of special education students is a moral issue-an issue having to do with what is right and fair. Is it right that Louis be denied the instructional support that he needs? Is it fair that we abandon Louis in a boat that will never reach the shore?

Students like Louis, Tina, Sean, and Travis have been identified as students with special needs. They are students who are vulnerable and in need of our protection. They are also students who are guaranteed (by law) a free and appropriate education. Unfortunately, students like Louis, Tina, Sean, and Travis are seldom considered when schools choose to implement the policy of full inclusion. The decision makers assume that these students are: happy to leave the resource room, excited to work with peers, and challenged by grade appropriate standards. If we asked Louis, Tina, Sean, and Travis, I wonder what they would say?

1. Common issues regarding full inclusion

2. Requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

3. Paper from the national Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities