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Charter School Champions Inclusiveness in Special Education

Parents and administrators of a Woodland Hills school say their novel method of including all students in the classroom instead of separating them is what's needed for special education students.

For parents of special need children, finding the right school can be tough. Many say their kids are separated and ostracized from other students.

A local school in Woodland Hills is instead taking the approach that education should be inclusive, with all students in the same classroom, which teachers and parents say is working.

"We would have been segregated," actress Amy Brenneman said of what her family’s experience would be like anywhere but CHIME Charter school. "There absolutely would have been Charlotte goes here, Bohdi goes there."

The inclusiveness is what Brenneman, mother to seventh-grader Charlotte and fourth-grader Bodhi, hopes her kids take away from the K-8th grade school.

Charlotte is a special needs student, who receives services as part of the federally mandated Individualized Education Program, or IEP.

"I have one kid with an IEP, one that is not and they are getting similar attention," Brenneman said. "So I think that's what makes it attractive to non-special-ed kids and that is the victory of the school."

The ideology may be expanding, officials with CHIME said LAUSD has given them the green light to develop three schools in the district and work toward more inclusive practices.

But parents worry that the theory behind the school’s approach could be threatened by a federal proposal.

A proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act eliminates accountability and achievements for students with disabilities and low performing schools, a worry for folks at CHIME.

"The concern is that we will be lowering expectations for a very large number of students," said Assistant Professor Amy Hanreddy of Cal State Northridge, who is a liaison to CHIME.

A spokesperson for the proposal's author, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), insists discussions about changes to the law are ongoing to better serve all students, including those with disabilities.

Also ongoing are fundraisers like "CHIMEapalooza," set for this weekend to make sure CHIME, with a state performance score in the coveted 800s, continues.

"It takes a community commitment to do it, but I hope that this model is disseminated to the point that there is no “CHIME” but this is business as usual," Brenneman said.
 

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