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Inclusion is a right, not just a buzzword in education.
What does it even mean, though? It can be confusing, especially for non-special education teachers. Sometimes, teachers might think they’re being inclusive and acting with the best of intentions and accidentally fall into a discriminatory practice. That is why we will discuss inclusion in the general education classroom and why it matters.
I worked with a student who had severe disabilities for years. When I first met her, she was homebound, but after years of hard work, we got her to a place where she could start school.
And the most remarkable thing happened when we got her in a building with typically developing peers.
Her language and social skills both skyrocketed.
She achieved more in those areas in a few weeks than I could have gotten out of her in probably years of work.
Because she was with her typically developing peers and was surrounded by new languages and social expectations that I, as a teacher, could never replicate.
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Students with special needs have a right to be in the general education classroom because that is where their typically developing peers are. The more exposure they have to other children, the better they do.
That is why inclusion is a right!
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What is Inclusion?
Inclusion is a hard thing for a lot of general education teachers to grasp.
It essentially means that the child has a right to be with typically developing peers as much as possible.
That can include anything from social time, electives, special classes, lunch, morning meetings, and even some academic subjects.
Of course, a child should still receive academic instruction from a special education teacher in whatever setting makes the most sense for their case, but that doesn’t mean they should be totally separated from their peers.
The more time they spend surrounded by their peers, the better off they are, so even if they’re in fourth grade and can’t read yet, they still have a right to be a member of that general education class.
To some, it might not seem like they’re learning anything at that time, but really they’re grasping a lot. Sitting around and hearing how everyone talks to each other and bonding with their classmates will do an incredible amount for them socially and help them make long-term gains.
Inclusion does not mean the child is in general education all the time, but it does mean they’re spending at least part of their day in the general education classroom.
As a team, the gen ed and special ed teacher must work together to ensure this is effective and the rationale is understood.
But if anyone on the team is reluctant to go along with the plan, remember, it’s the law.
Inclusion as a Right
Since its original conception in 1975, congress has re-upped or made minor alternations to IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Education Act). As it stands today, the key feature of the law is that every child with disabilities has a right to be in the least restrictive environment as much as possible and appropriate.
This means that if a child can interact safely with their peers in general education, they have a right to do so.
If they can not only interact with general ed peers but be educated in the same classroom as them with related services, they have a right to do so.
If they can’t do either, their teachers better have evidence and hard data to back that up.
Each child has a right to be with their typically developing peers as much as possible, which means their IEP team has to make the decision together about which is the least restrictive setting where the child can still flourish.
What does Least Restrictive Setting Mean?
There are different places where children can be educated in special education. We call each of these different places settings.
Settings can be more restrictive or less restrictive.
The more restricted it is, the less access children tend to have to the general education classroom, where most of the learning and socialization happens.
Depending on the child’s needs, the IEP team has to decide which setting is best for the child and will allow them to get the support they need while keeping them in the least restrictive environment possible.
There are a ton of them, and while it would be impossible to make a complete list, here is the most common, from least restrictive to most restrictive.
- General Ed Class with Push-in Services
- General Ed Class with Pull-Out Services (Resource Room)
- ICT Classroom (40% of Students have Disabilities)
- Self-Contained (12:1:1)
- Self-Contained (6:1:1)
- Home Program
- Hospital Setting
The least restrictive setting would be a general education classroom with Push-In Services.
Kiddos in this setting are staying with their nondisabled peers the whole day and still getting the general education curriculum, just with help and adaptions from a special ed teacher.
That is the only level where kids are getting the general ed curriculum. In the more restrictive settings, the special education teacher gives a more customized but lower or slower-moving curriculum.
So More Restrictive Setting Means a Student is never with gen ed peers?
Just because a child can’t read or write doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to spend time in a fourth-grade classroom with their typically developing peers.
Even if a child is in a self-contained classroom, they should still be at least spending social time with their peer group and maybe sitting in on a few subjects, depending on the circumstances.
In these cases, the general education teacher does not have to make a curriculum for them. That’s not their job, and the gen ed teacher can’t provide services to them. They’re not licensed for that.
However, it does mean that the gen ed teacher needs to model accepting these students as part of the classroom community and help ensure their peers treat them with respect and compassion.
If a school has students in self-contained classes, for there to be true inclusion, there should be a system in place for those kiddos in the self-contained room to do classes like gym, electives, recess, and maybe something like spelling or science with their gen ed peers.
That way, all kids get to experience the general education classroom for at least part of the day.
All children, regardless of disability, have a right to be with their typically developing peers in all different kinds of environments.
Inclusion can be tricky to execute. There is no one size fits all model, but what it boils down to is all students with disabilities have a right to be with their typically developing peers as much as possible.
And if anyone says otherwise, here’s your trump card.
It’s the law!
More importantly, though, it’s what’s best for the child. The more time they spend with their peers, the more friends they will make, and the more social skills they’ll learn, increasing their happiness level and quality of life.
I hope that you found this blog helpful. Make sure to join my email list to stay up to date on all my other posts and get access to my free resource library, which is full of handy things like goal trackers, checklists, and much more! It’s a must for teachers of students with disabilities.