Examining How the Inclusion of Disabled Students into the General Classroom May Affect Non-Disabled Classmates

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INTRODUCTION

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") affords disabled students the right to be educated alongside non-disabled students in the general classroom) Specifically, [section] 1412(5)(b) of Title 20 of the IDEA requires that states receiving educational funding under the IDEA establish "procedures to assure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled." (2)

When the inclusion of a disabled student into a general classroom is appropriate, the class will run smoothly and students will not be disadvantaged by the heterogeneity. (3) Nevertheless, the controversy over including disabled students in the general classroom has been hotly debated for the past few years, often from the perspective of the disabled student. (4) But the question of how such inclusion affects non-disabled students, now that the classroom is opened to students with disabilities, remains.

As the IDEA mandates, disabled students must be included into the classroom, "to the maximum extent appropriate." (5) Some argue, however, that the IDEA orders full inclusion; that is, inclusion into the regular classroom of any disabled student, regardless of his situation. (6) Full inclusion requires that all disabled children be placed in the general classroom "for all the school day in every school setting, preschool through high school." (7) Thus, full inclusion calls for the end of special education. (8) Proponents of full inclusion maintain that special education attaches a stigma to disabled students; that heterogeneous mixing in the general classroom will provide diversity; and that full inclusion gives all students the same educational opportunities. (9) In response, opponents of full inclusion chastise as naive the idea that heterogeneous education is enough to rid disabled students of their deeply embedded physical or emotional handicaps.. (10) Opponents argue that certain disabled students need very particular attention, and it is these students whom the IDEA intended to remain in separate, special classrooms. (11)

Part I of this Comment outlines the history of inclusion as established through federal legislation, as well as its gradual implementation in New York City. Part II examines the issues concerning inclusion, looking at the consequences inappropriate inclusion of disabled students may have on the non-disabled ("general") student. Finally, Part III proposes a solution, suggesting that a school district give a disabled student a "three strikes" policy regarding disruptions, after which she may be removed, permanently or temporarily, from the general classroom at the request of a fellow student, parent, or the teacher. This Comment further advises that schools concurrently work to change the perception of special education from a holding station for damaged children to a valuable learning environment for unique students.

I. THE HISTORY BEHIND THE INCLUSION INTIATIVE

A. Foundations for Change

The last quarter-century has provided significant educational opportunities that the disabled student was previously denied. (12) In the past, educating the disabled student in the public school was not a matter of societal importance. (13) Certain state statutes permitted public schools to exclude disabled children from public schools altogether. (14) Instead of schooling, the severely disabled were sent to institutions. (15) As treatments developed to assist the disabled in living more normal and longer lives, however, disabled students began to look towards integration into the public school system. (16) They found the means to that end in the civil rights movement. (17)

In the prominent decision Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court held that racial segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause. (18) The Court maintained that the right to an education, "where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms. …