Of all the special education programs in existence, special day classes – or better known in educational circles by its initials, SDC – has been a mainstay. At one time, every public school in America had this program. In many cases, it was the only special education program they had.
In today’s educational climate, many schools want to get rid of them. Although SDC courses were revolutionary and pioneered a new way to view education and conduct innovative teaching styles and techniques to help students with disabilities, they have become a pariah, as well as outdated, in the minds of many.
On top of that, SDC suffers from a stigma. Student and their parents dread them. Administrators in some cases have either attempted to minimize enrollment in this program or expressed desires to eliminate it all together. Teachers, councilors, and principals loath and treated it – in rare cases – as a dumping ground for unruly students.
To top it off, laws pertaining to special education and civil rights have pushed schools to mainstream as many students with learning disabilities as possible. As a result of this movement, the increasingly unpopular program has fallen further out of contention with educators.
Still, the program may be salvaged and its scope can be altered to fit the new special education climate.
SDC, in many respects, is a designation as well as a functional program. Traditionally, students who spend more than 50% of their school day in a special education classroom are given this designation. Those who spend less than 50% in a special education class are considered Resource (RSP) students.
Usually, SDC and RSP serve the same group of students. These are students with mild or moderate learning disorders. The difference, in many cases, is how severe do their disabilities affect them academically.
The classes they attend are usually small and have a combination of accommodated or modified curriculum. Many districts will label these classes as SDC; however, other districts may have RSP classes for the major academic programs, as well. In such cases, the definition of an SDC class is expanded. It will include students with disabilities who will (1) spend most of their time there, and are (2) performing in academic subjects far below grade level.
The “below-grade-level” factor can be tricky. For instance, a high school with RSP and SDC classes will set these levels. If students are performing at a five grade level or below while being a high school, they’ll qualify for placement in a SDC program. Operating and sixth grade level or above for all academic subjects usually means the student will be placed in a RSP program.
As mentioned earlier, an SDC program will use modification. In these cases, the text or material used will be adjusted to their ability levels. This may include using annotated or abridged books. Accommodations such as extra time to completing assignments, audio-tape to accompany a reading assignment or placement near the teacher will be incorporated.
Lately, SDC role has either been minimized or changed. Many administrators trying to impress state officials have done their best to reduce the amount of classes offered that their schools. They want to appear to be following laws such as IDEA or ADA, or they want to appear they are inclusive of all students.
In schools with large special education populations, the SDC program has expanded to accept RSP students who may have major deficiencies in one or two academic areas that prevent them from being enrolled in a general education course. As a result, the SDC courses become more of a remedial class or similar to an RSP class (usually these courses teach the same curriculum as a general education class, but they are smaller and have the facilities for accommodations).
SDC may have been one of the first special education programs offered by public schools. It has also been the most controversial. In its past, it was called the “dumb-dumb” class and was often avoided by parents and their students. Still, this program shows some signs of life as changes in its goals are made.