According to the law special education is a set of services and is not a place. Well truer words were never spoken. It is not a place for many children that I represent, it is many places from year to year. I have numerous children who I represent that come to me having been in five different buildings, albeit in the same "program" in five years. It gives new meaning to the phrase "mobile classroom". When the parent protests they are of course told that special education is not a place...
In Illinois, the main culprits are the schools that contract out some of their placements to educational cooperatives who in turn find space in school buildings for a period of one school year. The space is often surplus square footage within the school building that is otherwise wasted. The space is rented out but the following year the space is needed for "other programs," and the existing program becomes nomadic looking for another space which can be far from the original location. Not only does this disrupt the lives of children and their parents causing all manner of havoc, it tends to impair staff morale and loyalty, who then leave creating even more discontinuity. Children need continuity, regularity and predictability; children with special needs need these qualities even more.
As with books not being available for children with special needs, and mission statements being totally discrepant for children with special needs, it would be a cause of riots if regular education students were shuffled annually in a game of educational roulette. We would never dream of moving our most able students annually, but our most vulnerable students are moved around without a second thought as to the consequences.
I actually had a very constructive conversation with an attorney who represents schools about this situation. She agreed whole heartedly that this annual moving of programs was chronic and unacceptable. So what is the answer ? State legislation needs to be adopted that requires school districts to contract with educational cooperative for periods of not less than 3 years to create some real continuity. All sides, including the parents, and the school district that is renting out the space could plan accordingly, knowing that the space will not be available for "other programs." I realize that some districts will oppose such legislation because they want flexibility and the net result may be fewer excess classrooms will be made available for rent. My response is so what ! Children with special needs should not be left with marginal choices that serve everyone's interests except them. If marginal choices become less available, then the local school district would have to get creative and maybe even think harder about inclusive opportunities in the LRE. Left unregulated, as it is now, our children will be on the road again like a Willie Nelson song. Summer is an ideal time to contact state legislators and get the political ball rolling.