Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Kay Egan

Second Advisor

Margaret Reif

Third Advisor

Shelley Neilsen-Giatti


This is a qualitative case study about how four Catholic schools worked with local public school districts to provide special education services for their students. The study used institutional ethnography both as a method of inquiry and analysis focusing on the power dynamics involved in delivering special education. It recognized how people’s lives are “hooked up within institutional relations” (Smith, 2005, p. 207).

Interviews conducted with Catholic school administrators, teachers, and parents as well as public school administrators and teachers showed that public school directors of special education had primary responsibility for interpreting and implementing federal and Minnesota law. Districts in the study complied with the law but tensions surfaced in the variety of methods used to deliver services - particularly choices about location (onsite versus offsite). Catholic school administrators gladly accepted whatever services the district provided; they were reluctant to challenge decisions made by the public school administrators in power fearing consequent undesirable changes.

Decision makers, in their efforts to comply with the law and manage budgets, made assumptions about what students needed, what parents wanted and often what classroom teachers thought important for students. Catholic school administrators, teachers and parents need to be knowledgeable about the law, attentive to the perspective of students and willing to advocate for the most appropriate special education services.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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