top of page

Ashley Barlow | Perfectly Imperfect Advocacy



Think Inclusive: Season 10 Episode 12


For this episode, I speak with Ashley Barlow, a special education attorney advocate and host of the podcast Special Education Advocacy with Ashley Barlow. In a former life, she was a German teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools and Cincinnati Public Schools, having taught nearly every grade from K to 12. Ashley practices statewide in Kentucky and also operates a business to empower and inspire parents and advocates in special education, which can be found at www.ashleybarlowco.com. She is also the Director of Education at the National Down Syndrome Congress.


We did something a little different for this episode. Ashley and I interviewed each other and are posting the same interview on our respective podcasts. Cool right? We discuss several things related to inclusive education, including … what inclusive ed really means and using Dear Colleague Letters as a strategy in IEP meetings.


Thanks for listening, and if you haven't already, please give us a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.


Otter.ai Transcript: https://otter.ai/u/JiXRvYh8mFPHeFaGzeV6mM7Z5pk


PDF Transcript: https://3bd6e695-b492-4878-afa9-f79d8b09e0c4.usrfiles.com/ugd/3bd6e6_5b131ba558eb4a168d1623daddbfaa29.pdf


Cover Art Image Description: black background; think inclusive logo in the top left; rainbow-colored waves overlayed with a headshot of Ashley Barlow; text reads: Ashley Barlow, Perfectly Imperfect Advocacy; S10E12; MCIE logo in the bottom right


Mentioned in this episode:


Credits


Think Inclusive is written, edited, and sound designed by Tim Villegas and is produced by MCIE.


Original music by Miles Kredich.


Support Think Inclusive by becoming a patron!


Audio Transcript


Tim Villegas

It's 2023 Y’all, I don't know about you, but my year has got off to a bit of a rough start. I got COVID Last week when I was supposed to be catching up on all the work I didn't do over the break. And our family got a new puppy. Say hi Jupiter. And sleeping at night has been a challenge. But otherwise I can't complain. We've got a great episode for you today, an interview with a slight twist.


My name is Tim Villegas from the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education and you are listening to think inclusive, a show where with every conversation we try to build bridges between families, educators, and disability rights advocates to create a shared understanding of inclusive education and what inclusion looks like in the real world. You can learn more about who we are and what we do at MCI e.org. For this episode, I speak with Ashley Barlow, a special education attorney, advocate and host of the podcast, special education advocacy with Ashley Barlow. In a former life she was a German teacher in Jefferson County Public Schools and Cincinnati Public Schools, having taught nearly every grade from K to 12. Ashley practices statewide in Kentucky and also operates a business to empower and inspire parents and advocates in special education, which can be found at Ashley Barlow. koco.com. She's also the Director of Education at the National Down Syndrome Congress. We did something a little different for this episode. Ashley and I interviewed each other and are posting the scene interview on each of our respective podcasts. Cool, right. We talked about a number of things related to inclusive education, including what does inclusive Ed really mean, as well as using dear colleague letters as a strategy in IEP meetings. Thank you so much for listening. And now my interview with Ashley Barlow.


All right, Ashley Barlow. Welcome to the thick inclusive podcast.


Ashley Barlow

Thank you, Tim. And welcome to you to the special education advocacy with Ashley Barlow podcast.


Tim Villegas

I love this already.


Ashley Barlow

It's fun, see everything. You can do anything differently. That's what I like about this.


Tim Villegas

Right, right. Okay, so just to not confuse anyone.


Ashley and I have decided we are going to interview each other for each other's podcasts at the same time. So this is like a very special episode of Think inclusive in the Ashley Barlow podcast.


Ashley Barlow

Yes. And what I like about this as I always confuse people when I suggest it because my podcasts are more like conversations than interviews, I think. And so when I say let's have a conversation and publish it on both of our platforms, people are always like, Oh, I don't know. I'm a little nervous. I like it. I like you know, kind of switching it up a little.


Tim Villegas

Yeah, this is fun. This is fun. All right. So the listeners to think inclusive may not know who Ashley Barlow is. So, Ashley, would you tell us a little bit about you and your podcast?


Ashley Barlow

Sure. Let's do it. So hi, my name is Ashley Barlow. I am a special education attorney. I practice in the Greater Cincinnati area. I am currently licensed in Kentucky and Ohio. New news, I will probably let my Ohio license, go into escrow or go inactive whatever they call that.


I am also a parent in the disability community. I have a little boy named Jack who has Down syndrome. I am a selfie advocate myself, I broke my back when I was 15 years old and I have a physical disability. I used to be a teacher. And I taught German before I went to law school, and then I own a business called Ashley Barlow company. And what we do and Ashley Barlow company is we provide much more reasonably priced resources to parents and special education. I really advocate through the lens of special education law, the federal law, the state regulations, guidance documents, that sort of thing. And I have found through my practice, that having a more collaborative approach and really kind of focusing on the IEP team has been quite successful. And so after thinking about this for many many years, I decided to open Ashley Barlow company in 2020. They have two digital courses. says one that is geared more towards parents, one that is geared more towards people that desire to become advocates or to grow their advocacy process or their business.


And then finally, I am the Director of Education at the National Down Syndrome Congress as well. I just took that full time job in October 2022. So it's a new job and scaling back my law firm and, and going full time with ndsc.


Tim Villegas

That's fantastic. And you have a beautiful family that you're very, very busy with?


Ashley Barlow

Oh, yes. Well,


I have a very full family life as well. My, my son Jack is 12. He's like, super involved in all sorts of activities and and just trying to keep him engaged is a full time job. Particularly we're recording this over his Christmas break. And that is quite a challenge.


And then my eldest son, Griffin is a swimmer. And so I'm driving him all over the town for swimming. And my husband works in finance. Tim, why don't we do the same thing? Why don't you do an introduction for my audience as well?


Tim Villegas

Absolutely. Well, hello, everyone. My name is Tim Villegas. I am the Director of Communications for the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, which is a nonprofit.


And I'm also the founder of thinking inclusive, which is MCIE's official blog and podcast. So I was a special education teacher for 16 years. I taught for years in California, and the rest in Georgia, which is where I live right now. And in 2012, I started a blog called think inclusive in a podcast.


And it was really to, it was really to learn more about inclusion. I had been a self contained, special education teacher the whole time, I had been a teacher, and gone through various

thoughts about inclusion, I started off as a skeptic, I didn't really think it was the right thing to do. But once I saw it, it you know, with my own eyes, and in my own experience, and I started to learn more, and really developed as an educator, I realized, yes, it is, it is the right thing to do, and is the best thing for all children, authentically, and supported inclusive education. So once I started to do that, and write and contact people, and, you know, I met a lot of people, self advocates, people with disabilities, and interviewed them, the more and more committed, I was to the concept of inclusion, inclusive education. And then I realized that a lot of people feel that way too. And so that's how we got our audience. That's how we got so many people wanting to know more. And in 2020, it actually became my full time job because I contacted my my boss, right now, as our CEO, Carol quirk, who's been with MCI e since the late 80s, early 90s. They've been doing this work of partnering with school districts. I'll say a little bit more about that in a second. But she said, Hey, we have a position open for a communications person, just why don't you just come on board and bring everything with you. And you can do this work alongside of us. And so that is how I get to do this full time. And talk to great people like Ashley. Yeah. So so yeah. So that's, it's such a change. I'm going through that change right now. It's crazy. Yes, it's, it's like, it's like the thing that you did for fun. And it was, you know, a little bit. I mean, it's still advocacy, but it's, it's fun. It's like, that's what I want to do, right. I think that I that I did on the side. And just for fun, and just to kind of keep me going is now the thing that I'm doing. And it's yeah, I'm still having to pinch myself after almost three years.


Ashley Barlow

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So should we dive in?


Tim Villegas

Sure.


Ashley Barlow

Let's do it. Let's do it. Is it my turn NASA question.


This is the way we're doing this friend, is we both have questions He's kind of written up, and we're gonna see where the conversation takes us. But for right now, our plan is to alternate. If you listen to my podcast regularly, you know that the agenda oftentimes goes out the window, and we just started talking. So sure, however, let's let's go, Tim, hit me with the first question.


Tim Villegas

Okay, so how I got introduced to your podcast actually was? Well, I don't remember exactly. But I do remember going through and looking at episodes. And I think I just happen to click on the one that you talked about dear colleague letters. And that was so interesting to me, because while I am familiar with your colleague letters, I couldn't tell you, Oh, these are the ones that you should read, or you should use in your advocacy. But you had a plan, like you had, like, if you want to do this, if you if you want to bring this Colleague Letter, Dear Colleague letter to an IEP meeting, this is how you could use it. And I thought it was so it was so clear, and a way for a family could reference your information. And it was very useful. So I'm wondering, could you explain what is a Dear Colleague letter? And how can families or educators use them in IEP meetings with regard to inclusion?


Ashley Barlow

Yes, and I'm happy that you found that episode helpful, you know, sometimes is you do too, I'm certain.


When you are developing material, no matter what it's for, whether you're speaking at a conference, or it's a PDF download that I'm developing for Ashley Barlow company or something? I'm always like, is this what people want? Is this too? micro level? Is it too? One? On one level? Is it too nerdy? Is it like not even close to being at the center of the onion? Enough? You know, like, you're kind of always thinking, what is it? And I think that that episode in particular was pretty micro level, right? And so the feedback is good. So dear colleague letters are, and let's also throw in policy documents. So dear colleague, letters and policy documents are things that the United States Department of Education and or State Department of Ed will publish in order to tease out the law. So we're gonna go back to high school government for a second, and we're gonna remember that there are four branches of government, and there's this like, weird pseudo fifth branch of the government. So I'm sorry, there's three, did I say four? There's three branches of government, holy cow. And there's this weird pseudo fourth branch, okay. So you have the legislative body, they make the laws, and we lawyers are always like, don't blame me for the law. If you if you've got a problem, talk to a policy person. And those policy people, the lobbyists can go talk to the legislators and get it changed, right. So go talk to Congress, you, I just deal with what the law says. And then you've got the judicial branch that judges the court system, and the court system interprets those laws, and we get case law from that. And then that also becomes the law. And then we have the executive branch. And those are the administrative bodies. So the executive branch, is the President United States, the governor of the state, the mayor of the town, those those people, and of course, they can make law as well, they can do executive orders and make rules as well. Then what we know about this kind of pseudo fourth branch of government is that the executive branch can make cabinets. So we get these administrative agencies like the Department of Defense, Department of State, and what's important to us in education is the Department of Education. So if the legislators make the laws and that legislative branch, then what happens with the Department of Ed is they get to make things called regulations. And the regulations kind of tease out the law. So the big federal law and special education as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, ide a, and Ida is really, really, really broad, really broad. Like, if you look at what Ida says about inclusion, that is an eight, an eight point font. It is probably about four lines long, it's not very long at all that provision about least restrictive environment. And so if you want to try to figure out Least Restrictive Environment inclusion, by reading the federal law, good luck Have at it, what are you going to do? There's lots of little clauses, but what we have to have is we have to have these regulations that break down the laws, but still even Then the regulations are still really broad. So what teases out the regulations? What helps us to understand the regulations are these policy documents and dear colleague letters, policy documents are going to be like, Oh, usually 30 or 40 page documents where the Department of Ed is going to say, this is how we interpret blah, blah, blah. This is inclusion, Allah, Georgia Department of Ed, or this is dyslexia intervention, ala Alabama Department of Ed, the dear colleague letters are more than that's your like, Finally, she's getting to the point where the dear colleague letters, I like to start real, real broad and get real good. We're tracking. So so the dear colleague letters are letters that take the questions of individuals and answer them according to those policy documents, regulations, and the federal law and the state law. So it might be somebody that's found a loophole, or it might be somebody that has seen a pattern of something that has happened time and time and time again. And so they say, I'm a special education attorney, or I'm a teacher, or I'm a parent, I'm a superintendent. And I've noticed this pattern, or I've noticed this injustice, what do you do about blah, blah, blah. I've looked at the case law. I've looked at the guidance documents, I've looked at the federal and state law. And I don't know what it is, so inclusively. I'm going to go just a little bit deeper in answering your question, Tim, because what when we look at inclusion, the guidance document is you know, there's plenty of guidance documents on inclusion. But specifically as we look at dear colleague letters, there are dear colleague letters that deal with things like a student's right to supplementary aids and services. There are dear colleague letters that talk about how is child's educational placement is not to be determined by things like disability categories severity of disability, and configuration of the Service Delivery System, I'm literally quoting letter to Margolis of 626 2003. Those sorts of things. There are dear colleague letters that talk about how the individual needs of the student have to be considered in the placement decision. Another category of guidance that we get in these dear colleague letters is how the placement of the child how inclusive the placement is, is to be determined. And so we have, for example, a letter to baso, which is dated 823 of 2010, that says that the decisions have to be made by the entire IEP team, people that are knowledgeable about the child. Lots of people want to know about that homeschool thing. Like there's, there's, you know, oh, I know that somewhere in the law, it says that children with disabilities have to be educated in their quote, unquote, homeschool, or there's guidance documents, dear colleague letters on that as well. And the last category that I have broken down in my inclusion workshop is modifications to general education. So we've got, for example, and I think this is an actually the guidance document from OCERS that says that students can't be excluded from the gen ed classroom solely on the basis of the need for modifications to the Gen Ed curriculum. So they're just a wealth of information. Yeah, that was a big long answer, but I get real excited about it.


Tim Villegas

Yeah. Well, and also you so you have some sort of training or package for people to learn more. Is that right?


Ashley Barlow

I do. Yes. So I have a product called the inclusion workshop. It is about an hour and a half of video content. And it walks you through this document, this PDF document that is 25 pages long. And that is called the inclusion workshop workbook. And what we do is we kind of like focus on the law. And then we look at the regulations. And then we look at those guidance documents. And I also give an example of a case because I just like for people to see what happens with real students, real kids in real life situations. And then I have several pages and several minutes of the content that talk about practical strategies to advocate for inclusion. So one of those, for example, is to really kind of focus on the schedule, like what what classes are available, or if it's Elementary School. What's the day look like in the gen ed classroom and And then how can we capitalize on that? Like, how can we find time when we can push in services? Or if we think this child might need some pull out resource time? Where can we find time? That's great for that, that we aren't taking away from other meaningful time? And, you know, what kind of factors should we consider when we look at the schedule and that sort of thing. So I have some practical strategies, and also kind of some lists of criteria that the case law says that we need to consider when we are determining a student's placement. And that list actually is a compilation of discussion points that I've had when talking to other special education attorneys and advocates over the years, I literally just started pressing record, when a friend would call me and say, Hey, I have a kid with Down syndrome. I have a kid with an intellectual disability and, and we've got an inclusion discussion. I'm like, okay, okay, great. Let me hit record, because I might be able to pull something out. Like once I start talking to people, I get good ideas.


Tim Villegas

That's great. That's great.


Ashley Barlow

Oh, do you have a follow up?


Tim Villegas

No, no, I was just saying that. That's, that's great information. I think that I think that our listeners would definitely want to look at that.

Ashley Barlow

Yeah, thank you. It is I'm, I'm very proud of the inclusion workshop, and probably that, and my negotiation strategies course, are the two that I'm most proud of. Because, again, like I advocate, you know, from within the framework of within the framework of the law. And so that is something that, I think is quite important. Tim, I was super interested in the good work that you all do there. And super interested in what kind of how, if we could dive into this discussion about the definition of inclusion, right, because I, you know, I think anybody that puts themselves out there as an inclusion expert, or someone that's more than curious about inclusion, and evidently the conversation comes up, like what is inclusion? And so I think my first question, and that is, you know, maybe you could talk about, like, the the kind of mentality that inclusion doesn't necessarily have a definition. And in fact, it can be interpreted so many different ways by so many different people.


Tim Villegas

Yeah, I can, I can speak to that. So inclusion is a big word, and especially inclusion, like with a “Big I”. It's more like freedom, or justice. They're, they're hard to, they're hard to define in a way that's useful, I guess. But how I define inclusion is really more how I would define inclusive education. So in the context of what we do at MCI II, and when I say inclusion always works. What I mean is that when inclusive education is supported, and authentic, that it always works. And if it does, if it doesn't work, as a lot of people like to say, well, it didn't work for this kid, you know, inclusion didn't work for my student, or inclusion didn't work for my child. When you look at why it didn't work, it's because it wasn't supported. And it wasn't authentic. So how we describe inclusive education is really with four things. And we draw a lot on the work of Michael MC Shin, and Cheryl Jorgensen in their beyond access model, so I always want to give them credit for this framework, but membership, participation and learning and we emphasize one more of those and I'll explain all of those, but placement, you can't be included without being there. And I think that that gets that gets missed a lot when we're having the discussion of inclusion I just had this conversation with with some people from the TASH conference. I was just recently at Are you familiar, Tash? Yes, okay. So I We were talking about how when we talk about inclusive education, you know, what should be emphasized. And since I was a special education teacher in a segregated special education classroom for students with, you know, multiple disabilities. I thought that well, you know, I was having high expectations for my kids, I was trying to push them out into general education as much as possible. I was giving access to general curriculum standards. I mean, that's like, what else do you want? You know, that's inclusion, right? Well, what I didn't realize was that, when we're really looking at authentic inclusion, you can't be a member of a community without actually being in the community. And that includes general education classrooms. Like, you know, it, the very nature of the segregated classrooms, being in a school means that some kids are excluded. And that that community has decided this is okay. So that to me, as I've really evolved and kind of gone to and really understood what that inclusive education means. It means that, that absolutely has to be minimized as much as possible. And now, there's certain students that we may not have figured out how to include, and they, we may need to make arrangements for them. And those arrangements may be may need to be separate as alternate placements. But that doesn't mean that we create programs, disability specific categorical programs that we create for students. Because I don't think that that is the spirit of Ida. I don't think that's what LRE really means. I think that when we talk about inclusion, we talked about everyone in first, and then we decide on the needs of the student. And so again, some inclusion this don't like that, I bring that up, that there may be separate places. But I also feel like we have to be realistic and think about how we're constructing and that the goal is 100% No, play, no separate placements.


Ashley Barlow

That is that is that is if you get a child just to a classroom, but the classroom is ineffective, then we aren't doing the child a service. So I completely agree with you. I mean, you know, in an ideal situation, is it absolutely possible and is it absolutely best practice? Yes, but if the people and the systems don't have the structure in place, yet, all we can do is continue to advocate for that structure to be in place, but we can't place a child without good. Without good systems in place. Right. So yeah, I mean, I I agree with you entirely. And I think anything else, anything to the contrary, if anybody says anything to the contrary, they they aren't really looking at what the school looks like. Because if you look at the school, heck, even even our own houses, sometimes when I have parents that say no, I don't want one minute of pullout, or I don't want one second of anything that that anybody else doesn't have. I say okay, I completely validate that. But do you ever go out to dinner with just you and your significant other? Or do you ever say, you know, like in my family do it. So in my family, I'll just tell you the little story because the questions are silly. But, you know, Jack has a really, really, really hard time going to his brother's swim meets the sensory environment is just not good for Jack and it makes him very, very anxious. And if I was a really strict inclusion, as I would say, Jack's got to go to the swim meet because the whole family is going to show up at everything we do. Right and that is not right for Jack. Would that be great? Yes. What his brother love for him to see him swim? Absolutely. Do we find ways for him to see his brother's swim? 100% Because we know that that is part of our inclusive family environment. But we don't cram him into the placement of the General Education swim meet that's hot and loud and crowded and make him endure that because there aren't supports for him. There aren't adequate supports for him. There. Yeah.


Tim Villegas

Yeah, that's, that's a great example of, you know, if you if you were to have, right? Just said, Okay, he's in, and, you know, he's, he's being tortured, because he's in there, you know, and and then and then go back and say well includes inclusion didn't work, you know, didn't work. It's not that it didn't work, it's just that the supports and the accommodations you do the best that you can you know, in that and environment and you you make decisions that our very unique and personal interval individualized for that, you know, but so there is some, there is some nuance there, right? There is some nuance, it's not 100% in 100%, out, you know, type of thing, or 100% in without figuring out what that looks like. Right? And so, going down the list, right of the four things placement, or being there, I guess, physically physical presence, is what we talked about. And then we also talking about membership, participation and learning. So in the school context, if, if a learner is in a classroom, are they a member of that classroom? Are they part of the community? Are they missed? If they are gone? Do they feel like they have friends? These are all important aspects of being authentically included. And then for participation, what


Ashley Barlow

is something about that? Like I, you know, in dei be discussions, we would call that belonging, right. So that feeling of being a part of the group, something that I've really grown with as a parent is. And you said this Well, so do they feel that, because I can't tell you how many times both of my kids have done things. And I've thought, oh, you know, like, Jack wasn't really included, or Griffin wasn't really having fun. Let me tell you something, Jack, nine times out of 10 will feel very included, he'll tell you all about his friends and everything else, he might have really only actively engaged with somebody for 12 minutes, and a two hour long birthday party. But he will talk about those 12 minutes and those friends and that one thing that he was able to regulate himself to participate in, like, he went down that the bouncy house slide five times everybody else did it 38 times. He did it five times. And he will think that that is the greatest thing in the world. And I have to get rid of my type A, you know, straight A student vibe and be like, You did a great job. That was really fun. I'm so happy that you had fun with your friends and that sort of thing. If he thinks he, if he feels like he had a great time. Case closed, that is awesome. We can always push for more. That's my personality, but we don't have to. And same thing like my son Griffin, who is neurotypical. Um, he is very stoic. And I like turn cartwheels and jump up and down. When I'm excited. You can hear it in my voice. Griffin does not. And I have to tell myself all the time, Griffin is having fun. Griffin is showing that he is having a good time differently than I would and that is not only okay, it is beautiful. So that belonging piece we have to make it student centered or person centered, and kind of take ourselves out of it or at least separate ourselves from those emotions.


Tim Villegas

Yeah, I like that. I like how you're you're putting that via because sometimes as an educator, you're like, Well, yeah. There you make assumptions of like, Oh, yes, they're having fun. Yes, they feel included. Yes, they feel like they belong. But it could go either way. I think that's the most important thing is you need to ask, right. I mean, I tell I teach a class. Apart from MCI II that for for in Georgia, or Georgia special educators and, and about on on autism. And so I often tell the, the participants in the class, like, you know, how do you learn about autism? Well, you might want to ask your students, you might want to ask someone with autism. Because they are they're the ones who are the master or the expert have their own experience, right. And we just have to not make assumptions about how people think or feel and just ask them. I think that probably, that's probably a universal thing. But you know, especially for, you know, learners with disabilities. So real quick, I wanted to finish my four I keep going keep. So participation. What is the learner doing in the class like actually doing? Are they doing the same types of activities that everyone else is doing, or they're in the back of the class, and they're working on letters, and sight words, and everyone else is doing math? You know, it's like, we really have to think like, if that's happening, that's, that's not inclusion, right? Participation, even if it is only participation, you can, you can modify an activity, so any learner can participate in an activity. So you have placement, membership, participation, and what are they learning? are they learning grade level standards? Are they are they getting access to grade level standards? There's so many resources out there to be able to modify curriculum. And, Ashley, I know that you have your own information on that. But as you know, you know, a fifth grade science lesson, you can do things to that lesson to give access to someone who is reading below grade level, or, you know, is only able to access it at an entry level. So, you know, we need to make sure that if that's not happening, we're not calling that inclusion. Right. So, placement, membership, participation and learning, that is how MCI II defines it, I think that's a great way to think about it. Yeah,


Ashley Barlow

I really like that as well, I think that it, you know, kind of summarizes it extremely well. And that learning component, it can take on so many different forms, right. So I think that's really important. Well done, Tim.


Tim Villegas

Thank you. Thank you. No, and, you know, I don't want to, I don't want to miss this either. You know, the big thing that we do at MCI II is systems change work. So we partner with school districts to want to be more inclusive of all learners. And we partner with them for a multi year, phased in approach. So we've done this multiple times in the state of Maryland, because we, we have historically been funded by state grants, and the by the Maryland Department of Education. But we over the last, you know, five to 10 years have been working with other states. This year, in particular, we're working in Illinois, Oklahoma, and Virginia, we've got a number of other states coming on board, hopefully, in the next in the next calendar year, and 2023. But it's all around the work of systems change. And equipping school leaders to really champion this work. Because you know, inclusive education isn't going to happen with one professional development workshop. It just isn't. It needs to be a top down implementation. And so something that Carol is really great about talking about, and I'm not so great about talking about it, but you know, systems change the work that we do, it's based on implementation science. So there's like this actual science of how to change systems. And it's, it's really amazing that not it's amazing to me that not everyone is doing this. I guess it's just my bias. But you can really change systems if you do it a certain way. And we've been doing that work for so long. And it's, it's honestly, actually, it's my job to tell people, right, that you can do it. So if you're listening and you are a school leader, you can do it. It is possible then and it can be sustainable. So, anyways, I could go on and on about that. Yeah, yeah.


Ashley Barlow

Yeah. I mean, that's and that's a very good point. So you know, that kind of ties back to what we were saying about placement, right, like, you know, there's always room for improvement. There's always room you know, even even those of us that are pretty pure hysts about inclusion in my own home. I No, there are way better strategies and even just mentalities that we can have about inclusion in the community for Jack, which is, you know, kind of where I'm the master contractor, right? Like I'm in charge of home and community. And so I think that's a really good point that we have to put systems in place in order to get things started. And then we can continue to change the systems. And there are ways to change systems. And there are wonderful organizations and experts all across our country, and MCE been a wonderful leader in that area where we can really affect change. And so we've got to advocate for our kids. And then we've got to advocate for continued change across the across the land, as we say. And I think that kind of leads to my next question, Tim, and that is, when you see inclusion done, right,


Tim Villegas

what's it look like? Yeah, so um, that is that's, that's a hard, that is a hard question. But I will say that I had the opportunity to visit Cecil County Public Schools in Maryland. And they're a district that MCI II worked with, in the early 2000s. On systems change. And they are currently we would say, one of the most inclusive school districts in the United States. And we have a very, very short list there. They're in the top. And by the way, there is no list of include of fully inclusive school. Yeah, thank you. Um, because because, because a lot of reasons. But we, we pick Cecil County, public schools, because we because of our history with them. And because, you know, we often get the question of where are the inclusive schools? Right. And we wanted to be able to point somewhere, so we have to actually, we have Cecil County Public Schools in Maryland, and we have Westland Wilsonville schools, a Western Wilsonville School District, in Oregon. And the reason why we pick those two is because not only do they have high LRE a percentages, they're close to 90% in Cecil County, and I think over 90%, and Westland Wilsonville, but they have everything that we've talked about. Their leadership is committed to inclusion and belonging for all learners. They don't have disability specific programs, every learner is in. And the reason why I know this specifically for Cecil County is we are producing a podcast series called inclusion stories. For this very reason, we wanted to be able to tell the stories of not only families who are pursuing authentic inclusion for their child, but also highlight the school districts that are actually doing this work. And so I was able to visit Cecil County Public Schools in September of 2022. In preparation for this podcast series, I did some recording, I was able to tour the schools, interview the school leaders, and it was absolutely amazing. First of all, the mindset of the school leaders, every single leader I talked to you had a mindset that everyone, all learners belong in general education first, every single one. And that the services were delivered at the home school. And that learners are general education students first. They ride the same buses as everyone else. There's no special education buses, every every learner, you know, so the but even even down to the bus systems, the buses were equipped with, you know, supports, whether that was a lift or whether that is with personnel. Those learners went to those went to their home school. And they're supported learners with communication, you know, complex communication needs. Learners with intellectual disabilities, learners on the autism spectrum are all included. So that to see that actual and practice at multiple sites was just, it was absolutely amazing. So I think that they are a great example of, of how to do it. And, and just as a preview to your conference at the end of January going to be as a thank you, as one of the sessions, I will be I guess playing would be the best word playing the pilot episode of inclusion stories that will feature a family here in Georgia that is pursuing authentic, inclusive education and some clips from my interviews with the people at Cecil County.


Ashley Barlow

Yeah, I can't wait to see it. You know, I think you just gave a really good list. You talked about a school where it's going well, and you gave a list of things that people can look for when they are either leaving their district because they aren't happy, or they're moving. You know, I have a lot of military families that listen to my podcasts, and they are moving a lot. And so I think that list is very, very hopeful. And I agree with you, I you know, I mean, we've got to continue to shift the mindset of folk. I've talked about this on my podcast as well, like you said at the beginning of this episode, when I was first teaching when I was in school, you know, a big question was, do you think that everybody should be educated in the same classroom? And I was like, Oh, absolutely not. I mean, they're gonna bring everybody else down, the whole thing is going to slow down. And, you know, I am not going to get my extension activities that I need, if I'm in class with people that need more time to figure it out. And it's so crazy how, in my experience as an educator, and as a self advocate, and then most, for me, most dynamically as a parent, have changed the way that I have thought about inclusion. I mean, complete one AB yet, you know, I still kind of see. I mean, obviously, there's the research supports that also. Right. So I don't want to see I see the other side of the of the argument, because I don't see the other side of the argument. But I understand I think how some people are still extremely intimidated, because listen, is intimidating. It's intimidating for me sometimes as I think about a community experience. For Jack, it's intimidating as I am a member of his IEP team and help them negotiate some inclusive question that we have in a system that isn't completely perfect. Not that there is a completely perfect system, but in a system that, you know, has plenty of room for improvement. But you know what, here's the thing is, as an advocate, and as a parent, I am ready for it. Bring it, you know, I mean, maybe 300 days out of the year, I wake up thinking, okay, here we go, let's do it. And maybe 50 something years, days out of the year, I'm like, I'm tired. I'm taking a break, and we'll just see how things go. So you gotta stay at it.


Tim Villegas

Right. That's real. That is real. Yes, is real. And I think that I think that inclusiveness have to and I do call myself that we have to be we have to be real, you know, we have to be real about that. It's hard, that it's hard. And also that, um, you know, I'd rather have a school that was moving toward inclusive practices, right. Even if it wasn't perfect. You know, I think that I like what you said about not, you know, allowing things not to be perfect.


Ashley Barlow

Perfectly Imperfect, that's our brand.


Tim Villegas

We Yeah, there you go perfectly imperfect, we have to be okay with that. We have to be okay with that. Because, you know, we have to be moving. We're either moving toward inclusive, inclusive practices or, you know, authentic, inclusive, inclusive education or not, you know, and when I hit like, so when I hear when I hear school districts that are like, Oh, we're creating an inclusion program. You know, like all learners with intellectual disabilities are now going to be included. Right? Okay, but what about like everyone else? You know, that's great. Like, I don't like personally, I do not think that is moving toward nouns of education.


Ashley Barlow

Well, okay. So, you know, a huge piece to inclusive education is the modifications and accommodations that are in the Gen Ed curriculum, right? Like, everybody's gonna get really good specially designed instruction when they go out of the classroom for special education or when special education services are pushed in. Not everyone. But you know, it is pretty straightforward for a special educator, or a general education provider, or a related service provider to come in and implement a curriculum that is designed to help a student right, or to help a student self regulate, or whatever, you know, like it, you can learn to zones of regulation pretty quickly, you can learn Orton Gillingham, reasonably quickly. But and you should be able to implement those things with fidelity, but to modify the general education classroom. And all of those experiences and to provide that grade level access to every student that is based on their unique needs is a really exciting and constantly changing challenge. And so people have to it to the extent that it's not, you probably need a framework shift. And you probably need to think to yourself, you know, this is a really awesome opportunity, I am in a job that allows me to continue to learn, because humans are different. And that's really beautiful. If all the humans were the same life would not be beautiful. And so I get the opportunity to teach this thing that I've taught over and over and over again, like, I literally turned down a job because I was going to teach German to eighth graders. And like, I think a six week course, eight times a year, for six periods a day, or five periods a day, and I was like, Oh, my gosh, I would die. But if it was, I would not literally die. But if it were a wholly inclusive school, and I got to figure out how to do that. And even if it was just one period a day, for a learner with uniquely different needs, maybe that challenge would have been interesting enough that I would have taken that because teaching in school can get really monotonous and boring. So you know, sometimes it's just shifting the framework and thinking, Oh, this is kind of cool, I get to do something a little bit different, you know. So yeah, but I think a humongous aspect to inclusion. And something that we can't overlook is the best practices for modifying that Gen Ed curriculum, that Gen Ed content and providing it in an equitable and meaningful way to all students based on their um, so yeah. We have answered all the world's questions, Tim.


Tim Villegas

Pretty much, pretty much. I feel like we could ask more questions. But that may have to be like another time. Right?


Ashley Barlow

Well, that's the way all of my podcasts and is Oh, man. I wanted to say so much more. But the people can't listen forever. You know, that's what I've come to realize. Right?


Tim Villegas

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Well, if you are a listener, of Think Inclusive. Please, please, please listen, take a look at the episodes that Ashley Barlow has on her podcast, because I know that you'll find some that are very, very beneficial, if not all of them.


Ashley Barlow

And you know, to him, I think that we can promise our listeners that the organizations for whom we work, and the organizations that are so near and dear to our heart will continue to collaborate and we will continue to bring good content that is inclusion centric, as well as content that has inclusion undertones at all times. Because these conversations are far from over, and there's so much more good work to be done.


Tim Villegas

Absolutely. Well, Ashley Barlow, thanks for being on the thinking this podcast.


Ashley Barlow

Thank you and I will echo the sentiment that Tim just gave and that is be sure to follow all of the platforms that are ever at MC IE as well as think inclusive and thank you Tim. This has really been an honor.


Tim Villegas

Think Inclusive is written, edited and Sound Design by Tim Villegas is a production of MCIE Original Music by Miles Kredich. If you enjoyed today's episode here are some ways that you can help our podcast grow. Share it with your friends, family and colleagues. And if you haven't already give us a five star review on Apple podcasts or Spotify. Special thanks to our patrons Melissa H. Sonia a Pamela P. Mark see Kathy B Kathleen T. Jared T Gabby M, Aaron P and Paula W for their support of think inclusive. For more information about inclusive education, or to learn how MCI II can partner with you and your school or district, visit MCI e.org. Starting this month, we are publishing three episodes per month. So look in your feed very soon for the next one. You won't want to miss it. Thanks for your time and attention and remember, inclusion always works


Transcribed by https://otter.ai

31 views