I recently became familiar with Chicago Public School’s Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Mandate. Quite simply, it requires that students with disabilities be taught with students who are not disabled, whenever possible
The LRE mandate requires that to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities, including students in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with students who are not disabled. Special classes, separate schools or other removal of students with disabilities from the general education classroom occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of the student is such that education in the general education classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
My first encounter with the LRE Mandate was not ideal; a third grade art class with 41 students, 8 of which were special needs students. There were several challenges, the first being I was not made aware of the specific conditions for each disabled student. Even had I been briefed, I am not anywhere knowledgeable enough to know how to shift my teaching strategy to accommodate an autistic student versus one with lower mental capabilities.
But the most difficult aspect of the LRE Mandate is how to handle classroom disruptions from disabled and non-disabled students. There were two special needs boys who were prone to loud outbursts and insistent “NO!”s. On the other side, there were those students in the regular third grade class who would laugh and mock the special needs students, although they were in the minority. The rest of the class would sit mouth agape, starring at the special needs students. Gathering their attention prove problematic, increasing in difficulty as the hour-long class progressed.
I am wondering how others would handle this type of scenario. I was rather unceremoniously tossed into it, but in the future I would benefit with some learned advice.
See: Resource Guide for Teachers of Students with Disabilities also linked on the Teaching Resources Page
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Jesse Avina is a teaching artist who received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008, and upon graduating was granted the Daisey Soros Fellowship to study in Salzburg, Austria. His work frequently deal with issues of violence as mediated entertainment, and seeks to discover whether fantasy can be the best mode for examining our convoluted relationship to representations of war. Jesse has exhibited his photography, video, and sculptural work nationally and internationally, and currently lives and works in Chicago.