Inclusion For Special Needs Children
By Dr. June Stride View more articles
Is It a Mistake?
“Hey, Kevin, Jodie’s fall schedule for 9th grade arrived in the mail this morning,” Emily Sanders said to her husband who was enjoying a leisurely Saturday brunch.
Kevin, swallowing a bite of sandwich, mumbled, “I can’t quite grasp that my baby is old enough for high school.”
“You know, Kevin, it looks like Jodie will be having a lot of the same teachers that Jordan had. I don’t get it. How can that be possible?”
“Well, why not? She’ll be in high school.”
“Come on, Kevin, I know you always try to avoid admitting it, but Jodie has been in special education for years. She’s always had special education teachers in special classes.”
“I think you are going overboard worrying, Emily. So she’s got teachers that Jordan had, how is that going to be a problem?”
“Be serious Kevin, do you think for one minute that Jodie will survive academically in the same level of classes that Jordan had? That’s why I’m worrying. There must be a mistake on her schedule.”
The Sanders might be unaware of significant changes involving Jodie’s educational placement. As Emily pointed out, Jodie always had special education teachers in special classes. Being an observant mom, she noticed that the teachers to whom Jodie was assigned were not special education teachers. Being a concerned mom, she wondered what was going on and how it would affect Jodie. Answers for this observant and concerned mother might well center around the educational term “inclusion”.
The Sanders, like many parents, may have never heard of the word “inclusion”. It is a term about which all parents, concerned with the educational progress of their children, should be knowledgeable
The “What” of Inclusion
Inclusion simply means including. For years, special education students were excluded and educated in separate schools or classrooms. Now the emphasis is on the opposite: including special education students in regular schools and classrooms. In an educational setting, that term refocuses how, where and sometimes by whom children will be educated. For example, Jodie may be in for a new experience. She may begin a new school year not in a special education setting, but in a general education class. Her schoolmates may be a cross section of the school population. There may be a few who were formerly in her special education classes while the majority of students have always been educated in ‘regular’ classes. It may be that her teachers will be the same ones that Jordan had and that the special education teachers in some manner assist, consult or co-teach. Such a new educational experience will call for some serious adjustment on the part of Jodie, her parents and her teachers.
The “Why” of Inclusion
In order to explain inclusion as well as why schools are ‘including’, we need to take a look at some federal legislation that has significantly changed our educational systems and policies over the years. For too long, children with learning and behavioral difficulties/disabilities were expected to sink or swim in classrooms. If they sunk, parents had to find and pay for some alternative means of educating them. In 1975, Congress passed the Education of the Handicapped Act that finally ensured that all children would have an opportunity for free and appropriate public education. Parents and educators felt encouraged, that at last, all children would have access to free public educational services.
Over the years, a dual system of education developed, one special and one general. During those years, children with disabilities were often excluded for part or all of the school day/educational career and educated in special classes. Often, they received services in a ‘special’ place by a ‘special’ educator. This dual system proved to be very costly, less effective socially, emotionally and academically than anticipated and perhaps discriminatory. For these and a variety of other reasons, Congress decided to make significant changes when it passed the Individual with Disabilities Act (called IDEA) in 1997 and 2002.
Post IDEA 2002, Congress and the educational community determined to redirect energies, programs, and funding toward ‘including’ the students with difficulties/disabilities in the general education setting as much as possible. The implication now is that general education is good; special education is undesirable. It is quite clear that current mandates expect that schools educate disabled students in the least restrictive environment. Special education should no longer be considered the placement where education occurs. Special education is now expected to be the service provided to the disabled.
FYI: Inclusion is not law. It is not written into law. However, inclusion is implied by law, regulation, and judicial interpretation. This means that the expectation is that the disabled will be educated in regular classroom settings whenever possible. Consequently, schools across our country and across the grades are increasingly ‘including’ students. Find out how/who/when/where your school district/child’s school is addressing inclusion.
For those of us who have children in serious need of special support in order to have a shot at academic/social success, the inclusion issue has important ramifications.
- Schools often do not openly discuss inclusion fearing that parents of disabled youngsters will feel short-changed about actual services for their child.
- Children and parents of children who have spent years in special education settings are bound to have discomfort and problems adjusting to the general education curriculum/requirements/students.
- Another large concern of schools/school district is how parents of non-disabled students will react to the scheduling of more academically needy students into today’s challenging academic environment. You can be sure that parents of the highly motivated and academically successful are going to be vocal about their concerns of lowered standards and less help and instructional time for their children.
The good news is that some students who have been included have done much better socially and academically. Legislators feel that, precision teaching by general education subject ‘experts’ coupled with the challenge of general education peers, more of the disabled students will perform at a higher level. Socially, many of the included students have reported that they feel more part of school and more willing to involve themselves in school activities. Legislators point out that the dual system resulted in dismal test scores as well as disappointing graduation numbers of the disabled. Academically, unfortunately many students referred to their special education classes as ‘happy’ classes, where they claimed that they never had an opportunity to study what their friends in general education were studying.
TIPS: Your Child and Inclusion.
Once again, the better informed you are, the better prepared you are to help your child. Practical strategies are needed! Here are a few suggestions: