This week I have been concerned about a grade five male student, who I will refer to as Ken.
I had noticed a significant change for the worse in how Ken participates in class. He was very unwilling to participate and shows very little attempt to engage in learning. His response was to put his head down and not listen to anyone around him. Despite encouragement and doing activities that he is very keen on, Ken did not participate in any learning activity during the majority of his classes. His general demeanour worried me as he seemed quite unhappy, which was a contrast to his usual, bright attitude.
Thinking about the approach we should take with Ken I arranged to speak with teachers and counselors responsible for his welfare. In order to find out more about the Special Education referral process I spoke to the school counselors, the Educational support coordinator, and two classroom teachers.
During the conversation I was able to ask the following questions;
- How is a student identified for special education referral?
- What is the level of parent involvement in the referral process and special education?
- Who takes responsibility for the progress of the child before and after referral?
- What provisions are made for students identified for special education?
Here is a summary of the 40 minute conversation.
In response to the first question, how is a student identified for a referral, it became clear that the main ways are through teacher observation, such as my own. This is somewhat problematic as Ken sees seven different teachers every week, for the counselors to collate all the comments is difficult. They tend to rely on the classroom teachers observation and ,when they subsequently attend his class, their own observations. In addition, there are two educational support staff, who rotate through the grades, working with various children.
On the issue of parental involvement, his mother and father are separated but his mother is very proactive and cooperative. She has recently taken him to see a child psychiatrist and goes to the doctor`s office once a month, by herself, for advice on how to help Ken. We discussed if the parents of other students with needs in the school seek out a diagnosis from a health professional and it appears that, unfortunately Ken`s mother is in the minority. The counselor reported that in fact, when she approached some parents for a conversation about their child she received some aggressive reactions and some families want to deny that there may be a problem at all.
Responsibility for Ken`s progress before his referral is largely down to the classroom teachers, after referral the classroom teacher is also responsible, although there are a number of support staff available to help too. Staff members like the counselors, the educational supporters and the educational support coordinator plus the vice principal.
In terms of the provisions and accommodations that are made for him, he is provided with a calm, quiet room he can use when available and he will be provided with a support teacher to work one on one with him, wherever possible. This is not without its problems either, as some of the other students seems to resent him being allowed to leave the class and go to the quiet room. They feel he is just avoiding class and going to play instead. The educational support teachers plan to discuss this issue with the students.
The counselors, home room teachers and support staff all highlighted the need for an IEP to be created for Ken. Unfortunately at this stage of the meeting it became clear that Ken is being bullied by some of his cohort. Some of the other boys in class will actively avoid him on the school bus, if he is sitting on the left, then a group of them will move and sit on the right side of the bus. If he sits on a mat in PE class these same boys will not use that mat, saying it`s dirty.
The counselor was concerned about this and reported that the teacher in charge at these times scolds the boys responsible. However, she felt that this is not enough, and the school need to take more steps to put some policies in place to protect the human rights of students at risk of being bullied.
Another meeting was scheduled the following week to share observations and information amongst all staff present at this meeting.
So that is a snapshot of the situation regarding a special education referral. In other writing titled “The role of Special Education in tomorrow`s Japan?” I had reflected on how social stigma was a concern amongst some parents and we ran into this concern during this referral meeting. Similarly the lack of an IEP hampers progress of the student and does not help all teachers share the knowledge how to help. The lack of a personalized learning plan means that the provisions or accommodations that could be made are not agreed upon or shared amongst all teachers who have contact with the student. Our referral process could be improved by educating parents and students on special education at our school and by codifying (by means of a special needs policy) our schools approach to referrals, IEPs, disabilities and special education.
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