Agreement Should Lead To More Inclusion For Students With
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 23, 2004
HARRISBURG, PENNSYLVANIA--Education officials and advocates for children with disabilities are calling this week's proposed settlement of a 10-year class-action lawsuit a victory for both sides.
Under the settlement, which must be approved by a federal judge, Pennsylvania's Department of Education would introduce policies and practices designed to put the students in regular classrooms and provide the support they need to be successful.
The suit was filed in 1994 on behalf of twelve students with disabilities, their parents, and six advocacy groups. Commonly known as the "Gaskin case" for a primary plaintiff, the suit was certified as a class action one year later.
"Kids with disabilities just benefit tremendously from being educated with their peers in a regular classroom," said Judith Gran, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia. Gran served as the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Education Secretary Francis V. Barnes said the department is "delighted" with the settlement.
"We think it results in a win-win situation, ending years of protracted litigation and improving educational opportunities for some of Pennsylvania's most vulnerable students," Barnes said in a press statement released Thursday.
If the settlement is approved, the state would implement a new monitoring system to ensure students are being served in the least restrictive environment. It would also change its complaint investigation and resolution processes, provide technical assistance to school districts to provide inclusive education, and establish an outside panel made up of parents, educators and advocates to review the progress being made system-wide toward inclusion.
Suzanne O'Mullen told the Bucks County Courier Times that her son, who has autism, is an entirely different child because he spends his time around his peers that do not have disabilities.
"Regular kids can teach him so much more just from him being around them," she said. "In the autistic-support class, he just learned how to be more autistic. Adults would've said 'hands down' and he would've just kept doing it."
"Advocates for disabled hail decision to mainstream" (Bucks County Courier Times)
"PA Department of Education Reaches Agreement in Special Education Case" (Pennsylvania Department of Education press release)