No SPED limits


Our commitment to a diverse student body at ICS includes serving children with academic and physical disabilities at the same high-level that we serve non-disabled children. Currently about 10% of ICS students have IEPs (individual education plans). Children with disabilities are quite often as intellectually capable as other kids. Blake Charlton, a San Francisco doctor and author, did not read independently until he was 13. In this essay he explained that dyslexia presented him plenty of challenges, but points to research suggesting dyslexia gave him strengths that should have been celebrated as well.

The ICS Way


Our approach is led by an on-staff director of learning support. Particularly with younger children, distinguishing a true disability from a developmental delay can be tricky, and we want  to counsel families wisely.

To address children’s needs one classroom per grade is led by two teachers, one trained in special education, known as Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT).  Other children receive specific supports, such as speech therapy, a few times each week.  And at the core of what we do at ICS, our academic approach, especially our coherent sequenced curricula in math and literature and history, puts children with learning disabilities on the path to success.

To strengthen my own understanding of the issues I went on a study tour of Lab Middle School, in Chelsea. They serve about 70 students with disabilities, and although their instructional approaches vary based on the student's needs, their commitment to high academic expectations does not.

What We Can All Learn

ICS serves special needs children because it is the right thing to do. Encouraging them to attend and setting conditions for their success speaks to our values as an inclusive community--and our expectations for our children as they develop into active participants in their world. It’s in young kids developing nature that they can (at times) be cruel; by modeling equitable treatment we hope to maximize the impact of the “better angels of our nature.”

Vivian Paley
Vivian Paley

Vivian Paley, who taught kindergarten at Chicago’s Lab School for many years, developed another way to build healthy communities. When she explained to her class the new rule, “you can’t say, ‘you can’t play,” the children were incredulous.

As she told Ira Glass, “they could not see how such a plan would work. They understood the language, but their fear that they would not be able to handle it, that play would be spoiled was very apparent.” Nonetheless she put the rule into effect.

“Within a week ,” Paley said, “it was as if this was always the way life would be.” Speaking of an Alpha girl and skeptic, ‘Lisa’, Paley said “years later, whenever Lisa met me in the hallway, she would stop and ask me ‘how is the rule doing?’ and give me an example of how she was trying to follow it.“ When Paley saw Lisa in the supermarket with her mom, Lisa told her “It’s still really hard for me but I know I can do it and I always try.”

An experienced school leader told me the larger challenge to achieving Paley’s vision is the adults – getting the teaching staff to believe it can be done. My wife, a teacher herself, said “You’re trying to create a Utopia.” “Yes,” I replied.

At his school, Charlton, the doctor I mentioned above, recalled that

Notable put-downs heard outside my special-ed classroom included “dimwinky,” “retardochuckles” and “the meat in the sandwich of stupid.” The last of which, if you think about it, is a seriously impressive use of metaphor for a 7-year-old. 

Having graduated Yale, Stanford Medical School and published two books, he can look back on elementary school with perspective. But we can imagine how those same words felt to Charlton as a second grader.

Angelo, one of Vivian Paley’s kindergarteners, summed up what being excluded is like. “I think that’s pretty sad. People that is alone, they has water in their eyes.”

We know our kids will cry sometimes. At ICS our goal is to minimize the times when the cause is being excluded for being different. And maximize the times we cry with joy, celebrating our children's real accomplishments and distinctive abilities.