Borusiewicz 1

Marisa Borusiewicz
Professor Sarah RudeWalker
English 138T
29 April 2014
Social Change through Educational Policy
Background
The main goal of public schooling set forth by the United States Department of Education
is providing equal access to an outstanding education.
1
This goal is reflected in state and local
departments across the country, including the Pennsbury School District in Fairless Hills,
Pennsylvania who promises that all of their students will be prepared to reach their highest
potential.
2
For most students, the standards set in place by the school board meet their needs and
they are able to move through primary and secondary education developing satisfactory skill and
acquired knowledge. However, for some students, the current policies fall short of their needs.
One subset of students who do not always receive the excellent education promised by the
government and the school board is students with disabilities.
While policies exist to address the needs of students with disabilities, the written
programs often are lacking an encompassing view of the education system, both in and outside of
the classroom, as well as a limited definition of disabilities, which exist in a spectrum rather than
a singular form as most documented policy seems to interpret them. These shortcomings can
lead to a variety of side effects, including higher rates of bullying, a lack of interest in education,
higher dropout rates, and ultimately higher crime rates among those with disabilities. The
majority of students with disabilities experience one of these effects and it has the potential to
greatly impact their educational experience. The combination of having a disability and facing
Borusiewicz 2

one or more of these effects creates a problem which may significantly interfere with the quality
of education that a student obtains from the institution. Current policies in the Pennsbury School
District provide a foundation for the development of integrated programs associated with
disabilities; however, research suggests that an alternative approach to disability in public
education could limit these effects and provide an equal educational and social experience for
students with disabilities.
Variety of Disabilities
According to US Census in 2010, more than 2.8 million in the United States and 130,000
in Pennsylvania school age non-institutionalized children are classified as disabled.
3
The
Pennsbury School District is home to nearly 2,000 children with special needs, and of these
thousands of students, not two of them face exactly the same challenges and complications.
4

There are hundreds of kinds, degrees, and combinations of disabilities that exist among the
population. When speaking in terms of school, to most, disability means learning disability, yet
according to the United States’ government, disabilities fall into the following categories: vision,
hearing, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent-living difficulties.
5
Each category has
countless disabilities associated
with it, not to mention the many
that exist in multiple categories.
Each individual disability comes
with a unique set of qualities and
has an exclusive way of thinking
that is most conducive to learning.
Borusiewicz 3


Current Policy
When it comes to classifying disabilities, Pennsbury, like many schools, groups
disabilities into large overarching classifications. For example, some of the classifications
include Autism/pervasive development disorders, visual impairment, mental retardation,
emotional disturbance, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, and multiple
disabilities.
6
For each of these classifications, there is a singular screening and an assessment
that the student goes through. The current policy creates a system as follows. In order to have a
screening, a parent must recognize that their child’s learning is delayed and request an
assessment. If the student qualifies for having a disability, they are given the opportunity to put
in an application for an IEP. While Individualized Education Program (IEPs) meetings are held,
students’ educational structures usually follow similar protocol. During these meetings it is
decided if the student can stay in a class with non-disabled students or if they are to be moved to
an alternative class where they will be surrounded by other students with a wide range of ability
and disability. The limited individualization of this educational assessment often leads to little
immediate improvement in the education of the student. This leads to frustration and tension
between parents, faculty, teachers, and ultimately the student.
Pennsbury School District cites the Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 15, which
reinforces the ideas in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This section of the Act
states that the federal government will provide funding to stop the discrimination against the
people with disabilities in hopes of establishing civil rights for all.
7
However, depending on how
the plan is set up, this program and money are little help to the student with the disability.
Actions taken in regards to Section 504 are often reactionary measures taken after an incident of
Borusiewicz 4

discrimination has occurred. Section 504 has proven useful in the past; nonetheless, it does little
to stand in the way of harassment as utilized by Pennsbury administration. This policy could be
improved if it worked in tandem with a discrimination prevention method.
Negative Effects of the Current Policy
From these current policies carried out in the halls of the Pennsbury School District, a
few major problems arise. For in, the students who do remain in normal classes are not given
much assistance. Due to the fact that very few of the teachers in the district are trained to work
specifically with students who have disabilities, these students are often simply given a slightly
longer time on projects and tests. While this helps compensate a small amount, it truly does not
help them learn any differently than a normal class. On top of continuing to struggle, other
students often find this system unfair and criticize the student for the handicap they receive. This
often isolates the student with disabilities in a class and can lead to other problems such as
depression and a lack of interest in education.
Approximately 17% of students with disabilities spend most of their day separate from
other students, and a much larger percentage spend at least part of the day separate from the rest
of the student body.
8
Segregated by their ability, the students’ education is no more personalized
than any other student because the teacher must accommodate each disability present. Thus, in
order to accommodate the lowest level of ability in each area, standards are set extremely low for
everyone in the class. With no expectations at every accomplishing more than is asked of them,
these students have no external motivation at this young age. The ultimate result is low
achievement due to the lack of any motivators.
9
Furthermore, this absence of effort carries on in
to the future resulting a correlation between this lack of driving motivation in these students and
the relatively low percentage of disabled students not finishing secondary education or moving
Borusiewicz 5

on to higher education. In reality, only two in three students with disabilities finish high school,
compared to the average of three in four.
10

In addition to not perform well in these classes, these students often are separate for
lunches and assemblies, and thus are easily identified. This segregation by school policy causes
other students to only see them in light of their disabilities, consequently their only identifier to
the rest of the student body is as disabled. This identity subjects them to bullying more often
than the average student. In fact, 60% of people with disabilities say they have been bullied (as
opposed to the 25% which
stands as average for the
population).
11
In Pennsbury
alone, there have been
incidences where students with
disabilities were bother verbally
and physically harassed by their
classmates and on occasion
faculty members. Clearly,
students with disabilities face
harassment, yet even though it
must interfere with their ability
to learn and receive a proper
education, no policy has been
developed with in Pennsbury
Borusiewicz 6

School District to proactively protect students from being bullied in such a manner.
Alongside the isolation, bullying, and harassment that students face, comes higher than
average dropout rates and higher than average crime rates.
12
This in turn raises taxes on the
general public because, while it costs about $12,000 per year to educate a special needs student,
it costs nearly $44,000 per year to incarcerate a criminal for a year.
13
Thus the need for a policy
reform in the Pennsbury District extends beyond those direct related to someone with a
disability, but to the entire community.
Finding a Solution
A Short Discussion of Inclusion Policy
One of the most commonly discussed policies for reform is inclusion classes. Inclusion
is the methodology of special education that is not separated from a regular class. The students
with special needs and disabilities are kept in the same classroom as students without these
needs. Usually a special needs certified teacher must head lessons or a second instructor will
join the class. While this has the potential of adding extra cost to the school district, the constant
presence and inclusion of the children with special needs allows other students to identify deeper
than just a disability. A recent study suggests that this simple change in policy has a positive
effect on all of the children’s attitudes and reinforces the ideas understanding and acceptance
towards students with disabilities.
14
Thus, inclusion addresses the social effects ignored by
current policy that may alter a child ability to learn in the classroom. Inclusion has already
begun to be assimilated into the current policy at Pennsbury, yet it is only used with students
who have very minor disabilities and do not have a certified teacher involved above the primary
school level. Inclusion possess a solution that begins to

Borusiewicz 7

Exploring an Integrated Solution
The current policy towards disabilities largely covers creating an academic setting that is
unique to students with special needs. However, after exploring the shortcomings of this policy,
many of the weaknesses come in the inability of the school district to meet the specific needs of
each individual disability as well as a limitation in ability to provide a setting which does not put
additional pressure of the students through social isolation. However, tailoring a specific
program to each individual disability is near impossible and would be more expensive than the
school district can afford. Therefore, in order to reform the district’s policy, a proactive solution
should look to remove the social tension that lie between the students and any uncomfortableness
with disabilities will still trying to promote academic excellence on all fronts.
One potential way to develop this kind of policy is to create a completely integrated
system in elementary and middle schools. In these cases, kids with disabilities would be
constantly in the same classes as everyone else. In these kinds of classrooms, no one needs to be
aware of who has a disability and who does not, except those students with severe disabilities.
With this teachers could strategically arrange the class so that kids could challenge each other
and continue to push each other to think in different ways. Promoting student interaction not
only helps eliminate stigmas about disabilities if students were to find out later about a special
need, but also establishes an academic tool for both kinds of students. The students are able to
hear multiple explanations of the same material which can help with comprehension. With this
teachers could closely track the progress of the students individually and an adjusted grading
policy could be created with the intent provide a small accommodation for those with special
needs. A school in San Francisco has attempted a similar, if less extensive, program and so far it
has proven to be fruitful for all of the students involved
15
. At higher levels the student could be
Borusiewicz 8

separated into tiers as they currently do in the upper grades. With this program of creating strong
classroom bods and ties running through the primary levels of education, by the time the students
reach the age of high school, it would be hoped that they would have developed somewhat of an
appreciation for their fellow classmates regardless of their ability.
Development of Peer Advocacy
One of the main
goals of this potential
solution, or any solution the
school district choices to
adopt, should include an
aspect of peer advocacy. In
terms of disabilities, the
idea is to, starting at a
young age, instill a comfort
level with all peers, this way as the students grow older they feel that standing up for one
another. This kind of advocacy is so strong, that once a peer stands up for a fellow classmate
who is being bullied or isolated, there is a more than 50% chance that the situation will
improve.
16
In general, any situation which allows greater acceptance and inclusion of students
with disabilities will help to forward the success of their education. Moreover, peer advocacy is
a very efficient way to create this kind of environment for everyone.



Borusiewicz 9

1
US Department of Education. "About ED." Overview and Mission Statement.
http://www2.ed.gov/about/landing.jhtml (accessed April 29, 2014).
2
Pennsbury School District. "Pennsbury School District." Pennsbury School District Mission Statement.
http://www.pennsbury.k12.pa.us/pennsbury/PHS/ (accessed April 29, 2014).
3
Brault, Matthew. "School-Aged Children With Disabilities in U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas: 2010."
Census.gov. http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acsbr10-12.pdf (accessed April 29, 2014).
4
Federal Education Budget Project. "Pennsbury School District." Pennsbury School District.
http://febp.newamerica.net/k12/PA/4218840 (accessed April 29, 2014).
5
Brault, Matthew. "School-Aged Children With Disabilities in U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas: 2010."
6
Pennsbury School District. "Programs for Eligible or Protected Handicapped Students." Pennsbury School District.
http://www.pennsbury.k12.pa.us/pennsbury/Departments/Special%20Education/ (accessed April 29, 2014).
7
Durango School District. "A Parent Guide to Section 504." Durango Schools.
http://supportservices.durangoschools.org/parent-guide-section-504 (accessed April 29, 2014).
8
NPR. "Learning With Disabilities: One Effort To Shake Up The Classroom." NPR.
http://www.npr.org/2014/04/27/307467382/learning-with-disabilities-one-effort-to-shake-up-the-classroom
(accessed April 29, 2014).
9
Diament, Michelle. "Education Secretary Looks To Teachers To Raise Bar For Students With Disabilities."
Disability Scoop. http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/04/22/duncan-cec/7772/ (accessed April 29, 2014).
10
Nation Center for Learning Disabilities. "High School Graduation." National Center for Learning Disabilities.
http://www.ncld.org/disability-advocacy/where-we-stand-policies/high-school-graduation (accessed April 29, 2014).
11
Holmes, Stephanie. "Are Special Needs' Kids Targeted for Bullying?." American Association of Christian
Counselors. http://www.aacc.net/2013/11/25/are-special-needs-kids-targeted-for-bullying/ (accessed April 29,
2014).
12
Thurlow, Martha, Mary Sinclair, and David Johnson. "Students with Disabilities who Drop Out of School—
Implications for Policy and Practice." NCSET 1 (accessed April 29, 2014).
13
VERA Institute of Justice. "The Price of Prison." VERA.
http://www.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/the-price-of-prisons-40-fact-sheets-updated-072012.pdf
(accessed April 29, 2014).
14
Cairns, Bernadette, and Kirstie McClatchey. "Comparing children's attitudes towards disability." British Journal
of Special Education 40: 124-129. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-8578.12033/full (accessed April
29, 2014).
15
NPR. "Learning With Disabilities: One Effort To Shake Up The Classroom." NPR.
16
Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center. "Peer Advocacy." National Bullying Prevention Center -.
http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/peer-advocacy.asp (accessed April 29, 2014).