The Case for Inclusion (Part Two): What Does Inclusion Look Like?

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Guest post: Tim Villegas is a special educator and inclusion advocate. His Think Inclusive website and blog are intended to create a bridge between educators, parents, and advocates. This guest post represents Tim’s perspective and does not necessarily reflect the full range of options for service delivery in IDEA.  A version of this post was originally published at Ollibean. This is the second of a three-part series.

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Part 1 Recap

I must concede that my closing thoughts in the previous post were not airtight. There are families who, for whatever reason, decide to have their children or loved ones live separately (temporarily or permanently) because they feel like they are not able to include them and provide the support they need.

But that is the minority…or it should be? Yet, I contend that even those people who need the most extensive support possible should at least be given the opportunity be integrated in their family and community and let their strengths shine.

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Inclusion, one size does not fit all

But how, do you ask, is this related to public schools? It should always be the objective of public education to serve all students no matter their labels of ability or disability. The objective of public schools should always be to give the right amount of support to all children. I know these are vague terms and a little bit nebulous, but the truth is that inclusion is going to look different in various settings. We are working with a diverse group, right? So, the best way to start is with one student.

It is important to remember that the way the educational system is currently setup there is a disproportionate number of students with disabilities concentrated in certain schools. Right now, as you are reading this, there is a school down the road which does not have any students with significant cognitive disabilities — even though within that school’s zone there are two students for whom that would be their home school. Go another few miles or so down the road and the middle school has 15% of the student population with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Go even further and you have a high school that has no self-contained classrooms because the high school on the other end of the county serves all of the students who are in self-contained placements.

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The dream of inclusion

Now imagine for a moment what inclusion advocates are suggesting.
1. All students go their neighborhood schools.
2. No self-contained classrooms — all students are included in their same age peer groups and work with grade-level materials.
3. All support that is needed for each student is given within the context of their school environment.

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Distribution is key

If you stop to consider how the distribution of resources could be better used with this model, it really becomes more clear. Instead of having 10-20 students with autism in one school (most of which are in one classroom) they could each be going to their home school and be given support to learn with their peers. Instead of having eight students with severe disabilities in one class, there would be one or two in the whole school (which would make it much easier to create opportunities for inclusive learning).

So just for a moment think about one person, perhaps your child or a relative. Think about his or her unique needs as a person who has different abilities. Apply the three scenarios to them, what would it look like? It is much easier to think about one than one hundred. This is why going through the MAPS (Making Action Plans – Pearpoint/Frost) process is so important when planning for inclusion. There are other tools too… check out the resources from Inclusion Press.

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How might inclusion happen?

If any of this is going to be possible, there needs to be a sea change and it starts with you. Much like it does for planning inclusion…just think of one student. With the educational system so tied to measuring achievement with high stakes testing, is it at all realistic to think that students with disabilities will ever be fairly and accurately assessed on what they know? Will educators in general education ever feel comfortable with having students with disabilities in their classrooms when they know they are responsible for their test scores?

This is why going through a systemic process is so important when planning for inclusion. I recommend the MAPS (Making Action Plans – Pearpoint/Frost) process, as well as other resources from Inclusion Press (NOTE: These are commercial products, with associated costs).
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NOTICE: The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) is no longer in operation. Our funding from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) ended on September 30, 2013. Our website and all its free resources will remain available until September 30, 2014.