Parent Buzz: Parents and educators urge school district not to defund inclusive kindergarten program



 

Last week Seattle Public Schools announced its decision to de-fund the Experimental Education Unit’s 

inclusive kindergarten program on the University of Washington campus. Since then, more than 2,200 

parents, educators and community members have signed an online petition in support of the 

classrooms.

The EEU provides classes for 250 special education and typically developing children from infants 

through kindergarten. The hallmark is 100-percent inclusion, in which all of the students do all of their 

activities together, a rarity in the world of special education.

At issue is funding for the 36-student kindergarten classrooms, serving 20 special education students 

and 16 typically developing peers in two blended classrooms. SPS funds the 20 special education 

students, about 65 percent of the program’s budget. SPS states that “the past use of special education 

funds for general education services has been identified as a compliance issue that could jeopardize 

funding.” The problem was identified by the state Auditor’s office.

In short, in such small blended classrooms it is possible that money allocated for special education 

services will spill over and serve general education students. There is also a concern about “equity of 

access,” since this program is only available to a small number of families in one area of the city. Parents 

enter a school district lottery for spots in the kindergarten program, and students enrolled in the EEU’s 

preschool have priority.

Unless a new source of funding is found, the kindergarten program may not be able to continue – or it 

may run with a smaller range of services to families – according to EEU spokesperson Travis Sherer. The 

School District states that it is interested in working with EEU staff to “create solutions that support the 

significant compliance with District, State and Federal rules and regulations.” 

Opponents of the decision are outspoken in their outrage. Cinthia Portugal, who has twin boys in the 

EEU preschool, calls the move “horrible, tragic, shortsighted and discriminatory.” She expresses panic at 

finding another kindergarten program that will provide her boys, who are on the autism spectrum, a 

truly inclusive experience. “They are doing really well – on par with typical kids in many areas,” she says. 

“In this kind of setting, they can mimic other children who are typically developing. The social aspect is 

great; they come out of their shells. But more than the value to our children is the fact that the EEU 

provides a community for family, where we all belong.”

Joey Lynch, one of the two kindergarten teachers, has only a vague idea about the funding issues and 

hopes SPS will reverse its decision. Because the children are together for all learning units, playtime and 

lunchtime, “we can give them opportunity to make friends that they might not have made in another 

setting,” he says. “For example, we have a little guy with Down syndrome who has a hard time 

communicating; he has found someone who understands what he’s saying when no one else does, and 

they’ve become close friends.

“Along with the friendships, we can teach the children at whatever level of understanding they can be 

taught. We’re never selling anyone short, and the kids rise to the challenge.” Special education children 

thrive because they can follow the examples of typically developing children.  The non-special education 

students have the advantage of play-based learning on the cutting edge of early learning research, and 

they learn compassion, he notes. 

“There is nothing like our program out there because our kids are together 100 percent of the time – 

otherwise a lot of them would be in self-contained classrooms on the fringes of campuses.”

Lynch and others also emphasize that the EEU classrooms are laboratories for best teaching practices 

and help train graduate students in special education from around the state and the world. More than 

100 have participated in the school over the past four years and taken what they’ve learned back to 

their home communities.

For more information on the EEU, visit www.haringcenter.org/eeu. The online petition is found at 

https://www.change.org/p/seattle-public-schools-uphold-high-quality-inclusive-kindergarten-in-

seattle/c.

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