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Ethics and Education 

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Within the field of education, it is seemingly becoming more and more difficult to focus on the success and achievement of students because administrators are spending more time on situations surrounding ethical issues. In today’s society, it seems that because of the attitude that many people have, which is the attitude that “if I think that an administrator is doing wrong, or I can blame the administrator”, administrators are spending more time on wading through ethical issues than ever before. In addition, these situations are not only coming from the families of students, but also from the actions of the staff members that administrators are responsible for. Given what has been brought up in class so far, many administrators have not been well-trained in how to deal with ethical issues or to set up an educational environment that promotes ethical behavior. Many of the ethical issues that administrators face today include staffing decisions – relating to budget, under-performance, or based on student needs; dealing with parents fairly and equally; maintaining a stable school based upon standards set by the district and school board – discipline, grading, etc., and much more.

In addition, and particular interest as this course has progressed, are situations surrounding special education in schools. Many decisions relating to special education can be related to ethics and be very challenging to make because they do have an impact on the entire school population. One of the biggest questions that administrators face regarding special education in schools is “what is in the best interest of the student.” Many times this question intertwines with ethical decision making. More specifically to the point of this paper will be ethics and inclusion of students with special education needs. Administrators know that the IDEA (Individuals with Disablities Education Act of 2004) mandates a Free and Appropriate Education for students with a documented disability. Back in the 1980’s there were many debates around what type of education students with disabilities should receive and people started discussions that had the ideas of what is now IDEA (Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987). At that time, because IDEA was not yet in place, our education system basically consisted of general education and special education students being separated.

Even with the mandates of IDEA, the structure of schools is still questioned in regards to students with disabilities, and this is where the ethical side of special education and the role of administration leadership comes to be challenging. The struggles that administrators have with this topic are: what is best for the student with a disability and for other students?, the effect of students with disabilities on school progress, what the IEP is actually for and how it relates to structural and classroom decisions, and lack of training in special education – leading to the question of who really makes the decisions regarding special education in schools? According to Frick et al. in 2011, the building leader has to make sure that all students receive the best education possible. This means that no matter disability or not, all students have the right to appropriate instruction. In addition, building leaders need to ensure that all students have the appropriate staff members in order to make sure that all special education services are being delivered appropriately and that all of the staff members receive enough administration support as well as opportunities for ongoing professional development.

In 1997 Fox & Yessyldyke reported that it was found that special education teachers were being relied on by administration to advocate for inclusive special education practices in schools. This looked like special education teachers being solely responsible for the collaboration, teaching, and planning for all students with special education needs to be in regular education classrooms because regular education teachers lacked training and expertise in ensuring this was done with fidelity and in ways that best benefited all students (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996). Even though it is the building’s leader responsibility, many educators, especially special education professionals, have felt that they are alone in the efforts to effectively managing a special education program mostly because administrators have a lack of knowledge or training in special education training. This is the challenge that our special education director, who currently in is her second year of supporting our school, is facing. As the secondary special education teacher, I have been single-handedly creating, running, and changing the special ed program at our school to meet the changing needs of our students.

Prior to the last school year, I had no support or oversight because our special education leader gave us no support. With a new school director in place this year, I have experienced challenges in continuing to try to run our special education program with the fidelity I think it needs to best support our students as well as teachers. However, I am facing challenges because our school director is not knowledgeable in special education law, questions service minutes I propose during an IEP meeting, and then wants me to change my special education programming in ways that go against FAPE regulations. Now, our special education director is trying to help our director understand what special education means in schools, but much of the damage has already been done.

Administrators are also challenged with even though IDEA states that schools are required to provide free and appropriate education to students, administrators are making arguments about what this means to other students who do not have documented disabilities (Davis, Darling-Hammond, 2005). One ethical struggle that administrators have is it best to have all students with disabilities fully included in all classrooms so those students have access to the same level of academic and social skill gains as the rest of their peers, even if having some students in the regular education classroom may impede the education of the non-disabled peers? In the Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 1982, it was determined that IDEA was to not necessarily provide the highest level of academic growth and exposure but to make sure that students with an IEP have the most appropriate special services to meet each student’s individual needs.

This is an example of what many administrators struggle with. At what point is receiving services, not in a fully inclusive setting better for that student? While these types of decisions should be a team decision, they are driven by the model of special education that is supported in a district. Given today’s conversations about social justice, Lashley’s 2007 description of leadership where being able to ethically meet the needs of all children, especially those with special education needs, is very much like social justice, which ties into equity and democratic choices being made in schools. Finally, administrators are challenged when it comes to ethics because so many seemingly ethical decisions are so much in the public eye. According to Lashley (2007), decisions regarding individual students must be taken with every student in mind, because each decision affects the overall school and district accountability. Examples of this are at what rate are certain students being suspended or being expelled? Are they of a certain race or disability? Also, Booher-Jennigs (2005) did research on what students were chosen to receive extra school support and it was found that students were chosen based on who had a better chance of making better growth on state tests, which the public will see.

What about the students who the school determined wouldn’t make enough growth? They seemed to be “left behind” in the day and age where “No Child Should be Left Behind.” Therein lies another decision that an administrator had to make that seems very clearly to be an ethical decision, and one that is most likely leaving those students with special needs being not chosen for extra support. Even if a child has an emotional behavioral disability, it appears likely that because of behavioral reasons, he or she may not be considered on the list for a better chance of higher academic growth, which seems to be an ethical dilemma very clearly presenting itself. While many ethical dilemmas in education are unrelated to special education, those special education dilemmas directly tie to what happens in regular education classrooms. Professionals need to continue to increase competencies in ethical decision making and become well-versed in special education law and what those laws mean for programming and ethical decisions made each day that pertain to students bodies as a whole and to individual students’ future success.  

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