District will not "save money" by closing special needs magnet schools

According to Hugh Broomall, deputy superintendent and head of student services of the Red Clay Consolidated School District, inclusion was first discussed two years ago when the administration embarked on their most recent strategic planning process.

Broomall said that during that process, it became clear that the district needed to close the achievement gap discovered with its special needs and English Language Learner students.

"Out of that work, we decided we needed to have a core vision for the district on what education looked like for those two populations," Broomall said.

The district then created a committee whose task was to research what would be best for those groups of students, Broomall said.

That information was presented to the board of school directors last year, according to Broomall.

"When they affirmed that that vision was something they would stand behind for the community, we then began the process of actually planning how we would have that vision," Broomall said. "And that vision essentially was that, all students deserve the opportunity to attend their own home school."

That also means having the appropriate resources follow them to their home schools, Broomall said – including support and in-class assistants and personnel.

Currently, those students are sent to a number of schools designated specifically for special needs students: Richardson Park Learning Center and the Central School, both in Wilmington, and the Meadowood Program, located in Newark.

While such a change has sparked some strong opinions among parents and teachers, as evidenced at the December school board meeting, Broomall said that inclusion is essentially the same model as "mainstreaming" special needs students.

"I think it comes down to semantics," Broomall said. "Inclusion and mainstreaming kind of go hand in hand."

In the mainstreaming model, special needs students spend a portion (or all, in some cases) of their time in regular classrooms, giving them the opportunity to be with students receiving a mainstream education.

Broomall added that the terms have been used interchangeably in many different places.

"The law doesn't speak to mainstreaming or inclusion – it's not a legal term, it's more an education term that's been out there to describe the process of having special needs students in classrooms," Broomall said.

Inclusion of a student into his or her home neighborhood school is not only the letter of the law, Broomall said, it's also in the best interests of the district's students.

The change was also not fueled by any financial consideration, Broomall said.

He also said the decision to close the three magnet schools was not a financial one; rather, it was based on the social and academic success of students overall.

"The thinking is, we can give them a better chance at being successful," he said. "It would just broaden the opportunities that they have."

The district is planning on holding information sessions at several area schools between now and the February school board meeting. Those dates, Broomall said, should be available in the next week.