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SEPARATION ANXIETY

Others who have backed away from inclusion have their own reasons for not wanting a headlong rush to integrate all handicapped students in regular schools. Parents of children who have been designated "talented and gifted"--and who increasingly have enjoyed their own pull-out enrichment programs--fear that the one-classroom-for-all concept of full inclusion will mean the end of their special attention.

On the other end of the spectrum, parents of kids with learning disabilities have nightmares of their children--many of whom have enjoyed teacher-to-student ratios of nearly one-to-one--being tossed into a typical public-school classroom with thirty kids and one teacher. Says Spinks, "There's an undercurrent of parents who have been pretty well taken care of over the years."

In between are the parents of typical children. Many of them fear that shoving a disabled child with numerous needs into a normal classroom will unavoidably pull a teacher's attention away from everyone else. It is a sentiment that many teachers don't dispute.

Colletta Shin, a teacher who last year retreated to Fletcher Miller after working in Chatfield High School's inclusion program, agrees that parents of typical kids may have reason to worry. "I was giving a lot more attention and time trying to meet the needs of the severely handicapped students, and other students were just sort of being lost," she recalls. "I felt I just couldn't handle both of them. I was feeling further and further behind."

Shin is hardly alone. Of the four special-ed teachers who started working at Chatfield's inclusion program eight years ago, she says that three have returned to regular classrooms. The other one--Shin--returned to Fletcher Miller so she could work exclusively with disabled kids in a segregated environment.

Even in districts that have made an all-out attempt to include every disabled child in classrooms with other students of their own age, success can be elusive. Over the past several years, for example, Thornton's Hunters Glen Elementary, in Adams County's District 12, has made its classrooms fully inclusive. Kari Cocozzella, who teaches third grade there, says the effort has been successful--with exceptions.

For example, one of her students last year was a child who she says had the mental capability of an eighteen-month-old infant. "It was hard to find things that were academically even close to appropriate for her," Cocozzella recalls. Worse, because the student acted like a two-year-old, "she had to be taken out of the classroom every fifteen minutes or so. It was very disruptive."

Cocozzella says including such difficult cases, which she has accomplished only with a large network of parent volunteers, could be helping the disabled kids, although there's no way for her to know for sure. And she adds that it probably is helpful for her typical students to learn tolerance.

But, she says, the one thing that's certain is that the policy is not sitting well with everyone. Last week the district approved a charter school for talented and gifted children, many of whose parents have confided to Cocozzella that they feel that including their kids alongside disabled children with such demanding needs is leaving their bright children dangling.

"We're trying to include all kids all day, and all kids are not the same," she says. "Some kids can't handle a full day in a classroom. I just don't think that it's cut and dried."

Outside, Denver is bathed in the May sunshine. Inside the Colorado Department of Education building, however, the windowless first-floor room hums with artificial lighting. Today the state board of education has convened to consider an appeal for a charter school that the Jefferson County Board of Education denied in March.

Martha Palamari, who is hoping to open the Mountain Charter School next fall, is explaining why Jefferson County needs a school that will stress full inclusion for everyone. "There are seven elementary schools in the mountain area," she points out, "and only one of them has inclusion."

She adds: "What we are proposing for this charter school is not available in the district. They are maybe available in bits and pieces." Jeffco's representative, an attorney, disagrees. "The educational concepts are good," she allows. But, she tells the board, "it doesn't provide an innovative program that is not available in the district elsewhere."

The state board shoots down Mountain Charter School's appeal--but not the notion of inclusion. "This charter is not ready for prime time," says Patricia Hayes, the board's vice-chairman. "I believe in inclusion. But I believe in doing it well, because it doesn't serve anyone by not doing it well."

Jefferson County administrators say they are moving toward becoming a more inclusive district. But their actions reflect the ambivalence that is felt toward the policy generally.

Early this year, for instance, parents of disabled children who'd been attending Stony Creek's well-regarded inclusion program learned that they would be required to return to their neighborhood schools next year. The notion of educating handicapped kids in their home schools plays on the heartstrings of those who believe in the concept of inclusion.

Yet many Stony Creek parents are worried that the district is setting itself up for failure. By spreading the special-ed support staff, now enjoyed exclusively by Stony Creek kids, over a larger area, the district, they contend, will end up pleasing no one. "This is being done much too fast," warns Karen Litz, executive director of the Association for Community Living. "There are not enough resources to do the program as it should be done."

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