11 Questions to Ask About Your Child’s Resource Room Placement
It sounds good on paper: your child with special learning needs in a mainstream classroom will get specialized help a few days a week from a special education teacher to reinforce concepts learned and help him or her keep up with the classwork. Maybe you've been a little concerned about how your child will make a leap from self-contained to inclusion, and this seems like the best of both worlds. Maybe a place to struggle with hard concepts without mainstream peers looking on sounds like a good idea.
And maybe it will be. Different things work for different kids, and effectiveness varies wildly depending on your district and your school and the seriousness with which personnel approach making things like resource rooms work. Still, don't take for granted that the resource room your child will experience is like the one you imagine in your head. Ask the following questions about how exactly this thing is going to work, and if you don't like the answers, press for changes or alternatives.
1. Where exactly is the "resource room"?
Ideally, resource room would be conducted in a classroom setting. But if your school is pressed for space, don't be too sure. At various times, my daughter had resource room in a converted closet, a kitchen, and a table in the library. I've heard of a school holding resource room in a hallway. Obviously, those aren't going to be ideal settings in terms of distractions, privacy, or comfort. They're not particularly easy for a teacher to teach in, either.
2. When does the resource-room pull-out take place?
In middle and high school, resource room may be a full period of the day, and your child will go to it just like another class. But in elementary school, your child will most likely be pulled out of the classroom he or she spends the day in to go to another classroom or school space for resource room instruction.
In a perfect system, the pull-out time would correspond exactly to the minutes that same subject was being studied in the classroom. Don't count on your system being perfect, though. In elementary school classrooms where multiple subjects are taught during the day, the teacher may be flexible and switch things around, meaning that your child misses English because she's in resource room for math, and then has to sit idly in class while the math lesson gets taught later.
And that's on a normal day. When days at your child's school are disrupted by things like assemblies, pageant rehearsals, lockdown drills, late openings, and early closings, classroom instruction times are even less likely to match up. And whatever you may think about classroom parties, you probably don't want your child pulled out of one because the resource teacher is on a schedule.
In addition to asking about when resource room is usually scheduled and how that can be adjusted for unexpected variations in the school day, look at your child's IEP and count up all the other pull-outs that are going on. A couple of half-hours a week each for speech, OT, and PT can really pile up, especially when added to resource room pull-outs. Is your child spending more time out of the classroom than in it?
3. How often is it?
Your child's IEP should specify how many days of the week your child will go to resource room. If it's less than five, ask what your child will be doing in the classroom on those days when he or she is not pulled out for resource room. Will someone be providing extra assistance in the classroom? Will the material being discussed in the classroom on those days make sense to your child based on the work being done in the resource room?
4. How long is it?
Along with how many days, the number of minutes on each resource-room pull-out should be specified in the IEP. And as with how many days, you'll want to look at and ask about how those minutes match up to the time that subject will occupy in the classroom. You'll also want to question how that particular amount of time was determined and whether it will be sufficient to meet your child's needs.
5. Who's teaching it?
The resource room should be taught by a special education teacher—not a paraprofessional, even one you're assured is trained to help kids with learning differences. Be sure to ask about who is doing resource duty. If this person is not available at back-to-school night, ask for a meeting just to introduce yourselves and make sure the resource room is staffed appropriately. And keep asking your child who is doing that job, to make sure there's not a mid-year switch-out.
6. What other students will be there?
If the resource room attendees will be students from different teachers, are all those teachers teaching exactly the same thing at exactly the same time? Ask how your child's personalized needs will be met in a mixed group, and how this will enable him or her to use those skills in the classroom. Check, also, whether students your child has clashed with might be in that small group. Make the IEP team aware of the situation and strategize ways to deal with it.
When your child is in resource room classes in middle or high school, and spends the entire period there, ask questions about how kids get assigned to that classroom and keep a sharp eye out for changes in the number of students attending. One resource class my daughter was in became a dumping ground for behavior problems in the school. Any learning that should have been done—particularly the kind of intensive focus on learning you'd hope for in a resource room—was subverted by constant teacher-student conflicts and power struggles.
7. What will the curriculum be?
When resource-room instruction was first proposed for my daughter, I was told that "We do the same curriculum, we just take more time." I never found out what kind of time machine they used to make that work. Extra time is wonderful, extra instruction and reinforcement is wonderful, but something's gotta give. Ask for details on how the resource room curriculum will match up to the curriculum for your child's grade, and what the specific plan is for your child as to what is considered a priority and what can be skipped. This will impact not only what happens when your child is in the classroom on a day without pull-outs but also what will happen next year, when those skills everybody else was exposed to are built on.
8. How will the resource and classroom teacher communicate?
Giving the importance of synching the resource room with the classroom curriculum, you'd think that frequent communication and collaboration between the teachers would be a well-organized and strategized part of the plan. It may be, but even with the best of intentions, the realities of a school day often get in the way. If planning periods don't match up, it can be hard for teachers to spend much time coordinating—and since a resource room may have students from different teachers, that's all the more difficult to line up. A classroom teacher who's not crazy about having students with special needs in the classroom can also be an impediment.
You can be an advocate for good communication by asking questions and staying in contact with the resource room teacher to make sure everything is happening as it should. If no one can tell you how this communication is going to take place, worry.
9. What are the alternatives?
As the questions above illustrate, there can be problems with pull-outs. They may well be the best option for your child—or the best of the options available to you. But it's worth at least asking whether alternatives have been considered, what they might be, and why they've been rejected.
One pull-out alternative to ask about is a "push-in," in which a special-education teacher would come into the classroom for those academic periods to work with your child and other students who require accommodations and modifications. A true inclusive classroom would have the special-education and regular-education teachers co-teaching, allowing everyone to remain a part of the same classroom throughout the day.
Especially if your child is being pulled out for all academic subjects, it may also be worth asking whether this is really a better solution than a self-contained classroom, particularly in early grades. Beware of a situation in which your child is only in a mainstream classroom to make everybody feel good about themselves (or to placate you), and is then whisked away somewhere else for when the real work gets done, Your child may feel he or she doesn't belong anywhere, and that shouldn't be what anybody is hoping for.
10. Who does it benefit the most?
An individualized education plan—and the provisions it makes for how, when, and where a student should be educated—is supposed to be all about the most appropriate place for a student to learn. It's not supposed to be about the most convenient place for a student to be stuck. You'll want to ask questions to make sure resource room is the former and not the latter.
Ask for an explanation of specifically how this will benefit your child, and why it is most appropriate. Make sure it is not just a case of getting your child out of a regular-education teacher's hair or avoiding more rigorous inclusion planning. Your IEP team should be able to explain this to you in a way you understand. If not, keep asking.
11. Are the pluses worth the minuses?
Your planning team should be able to make a convincing case for the pluses of resource room for your child. You probably won't hear a lot about the minuses. As a parent, though, you need to consider the effect of more pull-outs, particularly if your child thrives on routine. You'd like to be able to trust the school to do things as gracefully as possible, but ... yeah, don't count on that.
None of this is to suggest that resource room can't be valuable and absolutely appropriate for your child. But as with everything else involving special education, you'll want to learn as much as you can about all your options and fight for your child's right to the most appropriate setting. These questions are a good way to start.