Ohanian Comment: I don't like the subhead to this article, which seems intent on sensationalizing a horrible situation:
A troubled student was put into
regular classes. Then he killed the principal
Has the drive for 'mainstreaming' gone awry?
That said, Tomsho and Golden are fine writers and give the topic the serious examination it deserves.
My 1990 Phi Delta Kappan article PL 4-142: Mainstream or Quicksand? provoked more angry letters (from professors) than anything I've ever written. One said if I took his course I'd know how to teach. Two got govt. grants to rebut me in PDK a year later. On the other hand, the head of Special Olympics wrote a letter to PDK thanking me. My point was and is that many children need drastic changes in curriculum. By being forced into regular curriculum, nobody is teaching them what they could--and should--learn. Over the years, I've written a version of the article in local papers. I get letters and phonecalls from parents of children with special needs, thanking me, telling me how miserable their kids are. I have never had a parent tell me I'm wrong. Now, of course, NCLB has just made the situation so much worse for these kids. Read Michael Dorris' Broken Cord describing the school experiences of his son born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
In this article, I think Gary Mayerson gets it right.
By Robert Tomsho and Daniel Golden
When Eric Hainstock didn't get his way in kindergarten, he told other children his father would kill them. In fifth grade, he tried to spray a homemade concoction he called blood into the mouths of classmates. In sixth grade, he threatened others, fought, and talked "about killing himself and others."
Worried about these and other incidents recounted in internal school reports, teachers and a school psychologist recommended that Eric, who was diagnosed in second grade with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, get more one-on-one attention, or be placed in a special private school. Instead, he was one of millions of special-education students mainstreamed in regular classes.
Dan Golden travels to Wisconsin, where a special-needs student is accused of killing his principal, for a closer look at the debate over whether special-needs students should be placed in the general school population.
After Eric transferred to Weston Public School here in 2002, his grades plummeted and he was suspended frequently. His only regular help with controlling his outbursts was a weekly, half-hour social-skills class.
On the morning of Sept. 29, 2006, Eric, then 15 years old, walked into Weston Public with two guns and shot dead the school's principal, John Klang, police reports indicate. He told investigators he was tired of taunting by other students and aimed to "confront" Mr. Klang, teachers and students. He has been charged with first-degree murder.
"Could anybody anticipate this?" asks Eric's attorney, Rhoda Ricciardi. "I think everybody could have."
Educating Eric involved a nightmarish tangle of issues. He was disruptive in class, was bullied by his schoolmates, and faced serious problems at home. His father initially opposed special-education services for him.
Years ago, children like Eric were routinely institutionalized in residential facilities, and many received no education at all. The milestone 1975 law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act brought more of them into public schools and, wherever possible, regular classrooms. By mixing with nondisabled children, the theory went, special-needs students would learn more, behave better and gain social acceptance. By 2005, about 54% of special-education students were educated in "fully inclusive" settings -- spending 80% or more of the school day in a mainstream classroom -- up from 33% in 1990. A special-education student costs nearly twice as much to educate as a regular student, according to the Center for Special Education Finance, a Palo Alto, Calif., research firm.
But, like the 1970s push to deinstitutionalize mentally ill adults, educational mainstreaming has produced troubling side effects. While many benefit, some special-needs students flounder in regular programs. Lacking adequate federal funding, public schools often are reluctant to pay for the services such students need. In many districts, mainstreaming has contributed to high teacher turnover and classroom commotion.
Perhaps most alarming, evidence is mounting that special-education students account for a disproportionate share of school violence and disciplinary problems.
In January, John Odgren, a sophomore with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, was charged with stabbing a freshman to death at Lincoln-Sudbury High outside Boston, where he had been mainstreamed. That same month, Douglas Chanthabouly, an 18-year-old with a history of mental illness, allegedly shot and killed a classmate at Foss High School in Tacoma, Wash., where he mostly attended regular classes.
In Texas, Missouri and Minnesota, special-education students are suspended at roughly twice the rate of regular students, state reports indicate. In large school districts in Dade County, Fla., and Fairfax County, Va., they are suspended four times as often as other students, according to state data.
In Massachusetts, special-education students account for 17% of enrollment, but were responsible for more than half of all incidents involving weapons, assaults or physical threats in the 2005-06 school year, state data indicate. In Pennsylvania, 883 special-education students were removed to alternative settings for weapon or drug violations in the 2004-05 year, more than twice the total five years earlier, according to that state.
When the matter was studied by the federal government in 2001, the General Accounting Office found 50 incidents of serious misconduct -- such as violent behavior or bringing weapons to school -- for every 1,000 special-education students in middle school and high school, compared to 15 for every 1,000 general-education students.
Students suffering from learning disabilities or emotional, mental and physical disorders make up 14% of the public-school population. Specialists say most students with learning or physical disabilities make progress, and pose little threat. But difficulties can arise when students with severe emotional or behavioral problems are mainstreamed without specially trained teachers and aides, or precautions to avoid overstimulation, they say.
"There is nobody more pro-inclusion than myself," says Gary Mayerson, a New York attorney whose firm has litigated cases on behalf of special-education students in 30 states. "But many school districts are using it as a pretext to avoid having to pay for appropriate special education."
Mainstreaming Eric Hainstock posed a major challenge to Weston Public, located in rural southern Wisconsin, and to two public schools he attended previously, according to school records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and interviews with teachers, friends and family members. Tests showed his IQ was average. He showed talent for art and auto mechanics, and had some academic success when he received individual attention. But when he didn't get that attention, school often became an ordeal for him and everyone around him.
"I didn't do so well in bigger groups," Eric recalled in a recent interview, conducted via video monitor at the Baraboo, Wis., jail where he is being held pending trial. Eric, now 5 feet 6 inches tall and about 125 pounds, with brown hair that hangs over his glasses, said teachers punished him frequently with an "in-school suspension" in a band practice room. On other occasions, he was sent home. "I kept coming back to school and they kept kicking me out," he said.
[Mourners gather at the burial of Principal John Klang]
Mourners gather at the burial of Principal John Klang
Eric's parents divorced when he was a toddler, and his mother moved to northern Wisconsin. He lived with his father. Relatives and friends say he relished hunting and fishing with his father, but missed his mother and was disappointed when promised birthday gifts didn't arrive. Eric's mother couldn't be reached for comment.
Eric's father, Shawn Hainstock, 37, earns his living chauffeuring local Amish who don't drive. Mr. Hainstock says that, before dropping out, he was also a special-education student at Weston Public.
Eric's behavioral problems surfaced early, school records indicate. In May 1997, a review by educators in Reedsburg, Wis., deemed the kindergartner "a great concern" to school officials. When he didn't get his way, the report said, he would "threaten others by indicating that 'his father will hurt or kill them.' " In another report, special-education teacher Bruce Borchardt said Eric's classroom misbehavior included making "pig noises" while rolling on the floor.
Mr. Borchardt, who now teaches in another district, says Reedsburg educators sought to place Eric in the school's special-education program, where he might have gotten extra help, either in his regular classroom or in a separate group.
To qualify for services for an emotional or behavioral disability in Wisconsin, a student must display related problems in school and "at least one other setting." At a meeting with school officials, Eric's father and his second wife, Priscilla, said Eric was fine both at home and in the community, Mr. Borchardt says.
Some school officials suggested that Eric needed Ritalin, commonly used to treat attention-deficit disorders. According to school records, his father disagreed, asserting that Eric didn't have an attention problem and behaved himself at home.
Mr. Hainstock says in an interview that he initially resisted school efforts to designate Eric as a special-needs student because he was convinced special programs had done little for him. "They just like to push kids through," he says. "They want to get them out of their hair."
In February 1998, first-grade teacher Rebecca Colwell told school-district evaluators that Eric "gets frustrated and he wants one-on-one attention, but in a classroom of 17 or more students, that is not very possible." In second grade, he was temporarily barred from riding the bus for name-calling, hair-pulling, spitting and kicking. By March 1999, he'd been the subject of 17 discipline reports that academic year, primarily for hitting other students or being disrespectful to teachers.
That spring, Mr. Hainstock agreed to let his son take part in the district's special-education program. Although Eric continued spending most of his time in regular classes, several times a week he got extra help with behavioral and educational issues in other settings. He also began taking Ritalin.
For a time, teachers reported Eric to be more attentive, but his school work lagged. When he transferred to the nearby Wonewoc-Center School District in 2000, he was assigned to regular fourth-grade classes, despite writing at a second-grade level, school records show.
[Eric Hainstock at his initial court appearance in Baraboo, Wis.]
Eric Hainstock at his initial court appearance in Baraboo, Wis.
In a Jan. 24, 2001 report, the school noted that he had recently stopped taking his medication, adding "that he is more likely to be off task, talking, and in some cases getting into trouble." He never resumed Ritalin treatment. Mr. Hainstock says he decided his son was better off without the drug, which he says made Eric "like a zombie."
There was also turmoil at home. According to a 2001 criminal complaint filed in state court in Baraboo charging Mr. Hainstock with intentional physical abuse of a child, Eric told Sauk County investigators that his father had kicked him in the hip several times after he forgot to give water to some pets. Eric also said his father sometimes spanked him with a wooden paddle marked "board of education" and put hot sauce or hot peppers in his mouth when he lied. Mr. Hainstock told investigators he had delivered a "soccer style kick" to his son's back side, according to the complaint.
Although the complaint was later dismissed, the court temporarily sent Eric to live with his grandparents, and restricted contact with his father to supervised visits. Mr. Hainstock declined to discuss the incident. "There's no perfect parent," he says.
Eric's problems at school escalated. In a letter written as punishment, he admitted to mocking special-education teacher Joan Gavin. He said he called her a witch and got "out of control," smashing her fingers into the blackboard and jabbing her with a pencil. "I started kicking and screaming. I started pushing Mrs. Gavin," he wrote. "I yelled. I fake cried. I spit."
Mrs. Gavin, now retired, says Eric was "totally frustrated" in school. "The kids were picking on him. He didn't realize he was picking on the kids. He was constantly bothering people. Saying nasty little things under his breath about their parents or their buddies or their behavior. Part of it was his defense mechanism: if I pick on them, they won't pick on me." She compares Eric, who once ran away five miles from school, to "a little trapped animal. It's either fight or run."
In 2002, 11-year-old Eric transferred to Weston Public, which sits alone on a windswept hill dotted by haystacks. The only school in its district, it has 356 students from prekindergarten through 12th grade, including 58 with individualized special-education plans. Superintendent Tom Andres says the district tries to "adjust and monitor so as many students as possible remain mainstreamed."
Special-education students placed in mainstream classrooms are supposed to receive extra support when needed, ranging from one-on-one aides to behavioral counseling. The cost has largely fallen to local school districts. Weston has cut back on music, shop and other programs, sparking some resentment against special education. But the district also has trimmed special-education aides from five in the 1998-99 school year to the current two, plus one part-timer.
In the 2003-04 year, 23% of Weston's special-education students received suspensions. Eric, who spent most of his time in regular classrooms, was either removed from class or suspended numerous times. He failed sixth grade, then nearly failed it again.
"He is unable to attend to tasks for more than three minutes," school officials wrote in one assessment in 2003-04. The report said he "doodles, scribbles and eats parts of his paper," clothing, erasers, pen parts, and "pencil chunks."
Eric was the target of bullying, and he baited students. Classmates and teachers say he often came to school disheveled and smelling of smoke from the wood stove that heats his home. In his jail interview, he recalled that when he was in sixth grade, a high schooler "picked me up and threw me in the bushes." Around the same time, he said, bullies "stuck" him in a school locker for half an hour, and on another occasion forced his head into a toilet and flushed.
In 2004, the teachers and administrators involved in Eric's educational plan reported that he "needs constant monitoring and re-direction as well as one to one help. This cannot be accomplished in the large general curriculum....An entire day at Weston appears to be too much for Eric to cope with and therefore a threat to his safety."
Late in his second year of sixth grade, school officials cut his schedule to a half day. A school report said his behavior "drastically improved" for a couple of weeks, but then slipped back.
When he entered seventh grade in September 2004, he resumed a full-time schedule because the shorter day was having little effect and school officials were concerned he wasn't earning enough credits. He received one-on-one instruction in social studies, but failed math and science. He was sometimes so alienated from the classes that he chose to sit in a wastebasket, according to school records.
Edna Kiemele-Rhodes, the school psychologist, says she began urging school officials and the Hainstock family to send Eric to the Family & Children's Center in Viroqua, a private school about an hour away that offers individualized education in the morning and mental-health counseling in the afternoon.
Nationally, public-school districts that cannot provide an appropriate education pay for about 70,000 students with disabilities to attend separate private facilities.
A private school can cost $50,000 a year or more, but Viroqua was a relative bargain. School districts usually pay Viroqua $27 for the half day of education, while parents or their health insurers pay $132 for the afternoon counseling.
But parental consent is required, and Mr. Hainstock opposed the idea, says Ms. Kiemele-Rhodes. Mr. Hainstock says he does not recall discussing Viroqua with her at that time. Nationally, disputes between parents and school officials over services for special-education students often lead to administrative hearings or mediation.
In 2005, Mr. Klang, a Weston graduate and father of three, became school principal. A dairy farmer for much of his life, he returned to teaching because of a bad back in 2001. He was known as a generous sort with a calm demeanor.
Mr. Klang took an interest in Eric. He encouraged him to take showers at school and, with other teachers, bought the boy shoes and clothes to change into when his own were tattered or dirty, school officials say. "I started talking to him about my problems," Eric recalled in the jail interview. "I don't think he understood."
By eighth grade, Weston educators had made a raft of accommodations for Eric. When he misbehaved, he was sometimes sent to a special-education classroom to calm down. He was allowed to use a calculator in math class, to turn in assignments late, and to complete essay exams orally. Even so, he received Ds and Fs in virtually every academic course. Although some teachers wanted Eric held back, he was promoted to ninth grade, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
He began giving himself homemade tattoos and rubbing his skin raw with erasers, then cutting himself with a razor. "It got to the point I was cutting my arms every day," he said. "I was bored and stressed out." He said he was "getting suicidal."
Eric often hid the wounds with long-sleeved shirts. When his class visited a local prison on a class trip, inmates noticed cuts on Eric's arms. They alerted a prison social worker, who called the school to urge intervention, according to a person familiar with the matter. School officials said they were uncertain if there had been any follow-up.
Eric's problems escalated last fall. When special-education teacher James Nowak ordered him to the detention room for arguing with another student, Eric "held a stapler in a cocked position and told me to back the f*** up," Mr. Nowak wrote in a school discipline report. "I went to get Mr. Klang and he threw the stapler at me and just missed me. The stapler broke when it hit the wall." Eric was suspended for two and a half days and charged with second-degree reckless endangerment, criminal damage and disorderly conduct.
That night, Eric had a fight at home with his stepmother over how long he could visit a friend. Eric's lawyers say she bit him in the chest and arms. Priscilla Hainstock declined to discuss the matter.
The incidents shook Ms. Kiemele-Rhodes, the school psychologist. She says she renewed her efforts to get Eric transferred to Viroqua. This time, his father agreed. But some teachers at the school thought she was overreacting. Mr. Klang seemed undecided but told her to look into it, Ms. Kiemele-Rhodes says. Placing a student in the school can take a month. "Neither of us thought it was something we had to do that week," she says.
On Sept. 21, Eric was given detention for hitting a classmate. On Sept. 28, he received a disciplinary notice after Mr. Klang found smokeless tobacco in his backpack. That night, Eric went out with friends to toss toilet paper into trees as part of the school's homecoming celebration.
The following morning, Weston Public's main hallway was festooned with pale blue balloons. At 8 o'clock, custodian David Thompson was chatting near the main entrance with Charles Keller, Eric's social-studies teacher, when Eric came through the glass doors carrying a shotgun. Mr. Keller heard the student say something like, "I've got a gun. I'm not kidding and this is for real," according to a police report.
The custodian grabbed the shotgun by the barrel and wrenched it out of the boy's hands. Mr. Klang arrived. The public-address system informed teachers the school was under a "code blue" alert, meaning that they should lock their classrooms, turn off the lights and move students away from doors and windows.
Eric was also carrying a pistol. As math teacher Corey Brunett looked into the hallway from his classroom, he saw Mr. Klang standing behind Eric trying to hold the boy's right arm, Mr. Brunett told investigators. Shots rang out. Mr. Brunett saw Eric down on his stomach, with Mr. Klang on top of him. The principal made a sweeping motion with his hand, and the handgun slid down the hallway, Mr. Burnett said.
Mr. Klang was airlifted to a hospital in Madison with pistol wounds to the head, abdomen and left leg. He died several hours later. Hearing about Mr. Klang's shooting on television, Mrs. Gavin, Eric's former teacher, told her husband, "I hope it wasn't Eric."
Eric told investigators that students had been harassing him, and that the principal and teachers wouldn't do anything about it. He said he pried open a locked gun cabinet at home to get the shotgun, took the pistol from his parents' bedroom, and drove his father's truck to school. Investigators told the court that Eric "decided to confront the students and teachers and principal with guns to make them listen to him."
Eric has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and his lawyers say he didn't intend to kill anyone. (They didn't allow Eric to discuss the incident in his interview.)
In the wake of the killing, teachers began taking workshops on dealing with difficult children. Superintendent Andres says his staff is still wrestling with stresses related to the murder, and some teachers "feel guilty that they didn't do enough" to prevent the shooting.
Under Wisconsin law, anyone charged with first-degree murder who is at least 15 years old is automatically tried as an adult. Portraying Eric as a victim of his father's abuse and schoolmates' bullying, his lawyers sought a waiver to have him tried as a juvenile, but a judge rejected their motion last month.
Eric recently celebrated his 16th birthday in jail, where a teacher visits him twice a week for one-on-one instruction. In a Feb. 27 report, his teacher, Patricia Kelly, wrote that he "has made progress in all areas of his school studies." He had mastered multiplication and division and earned an A in one health class and a B in another.
"Eric has maintained a good attitude regarding school and continues to look forward to his sessions," Ms. Kelly wrote. "He is cooperative and stays focused during our meetings."
Write to Robert Tomsho at email@example.com
Robert Tomsho and Daniel Golden
Wall Street Journal