Date of Award

5-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Legacy Department

Educational Leadership

Advisor

Lindle, Jane C

Committee Member

Brewer , Curtis

Committee Member

First , Patricia

Committee Member

Stecker , Pamela

Abstract

This study focused on terms anchored in special education and associated stigma of disability in schools. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensured the right to education in US public school systems for students with disabilities. An associated term asserted that children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Yet, IDEA did not address the institutional or social stigma arising in the wake of labeling students as disabled. The stigma, a result of ableism, promotes a premise of normalcy and marginalizes students with disabilities. This study was a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the LRE clause. This intensive CDA investigated LRE from macro-policy terms through interpretations at state and local levels into one public school system among selected elementary school principals.
Theoretical frameworks of positivism have dominated research and professional practices in the field of special education. However, the terminology and discourse associated with IDEA has largely gone unchallenged. CDA was used to answer the following research questions:
Does the LRE clause of the IDEA create or reinforce institutional ableism?
* What discourse themes can be interpreted from the textual choices within case law interpretations and federal regulations related to LRE?
* What discourse themes can be interpreted from the textual choices in the LRE section of the South Carolina Office of Exceptional Children Process Guide?
* What discourse themes can be interpreted from the textual choices within a selected urban district's policies and guidelines related to LRE?
* What discourse themes can be interpreted from the textual choices found in face-to-face interviews with five traditional elementary school principals?
Three cycles of coding were applied to elicit discourse strands, or themes, within the data. Resulting themes included use of dichotomous language, individual deficit models of disability, hegemonic struggles between students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and central office support staff. Additionally, the voices of participants provided an opportunity to expand the study and consider additional themes and an emerging theory about the educational ecosystem of a school.

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