Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How to Build an Inclusive School Community: A Success Story

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

How to Build an Inclusive School Community: A Success Story

Article excerpt

Those schools that continue to struggle to keep students with disabilities out of general education classrooms should seriously consider investing their time, effort, and money in the creation of environments that welcome all students, these authors maintain - and they give reasons for their position.

Inclusion is a philosophy that acknowledges the importance of the real world for students' learning. Every society has had to face the question of how to treat individuals who differ from the norm, and the vision of building strong communities based on peace. unity, and acceptance for all is an appealing one. We can begin to make this vision a reality in our public schools by accepting and valuing children with disabilities exactly as they are.

Schools are the communities to which children belong in their most formative years. Classrooms reflect real life with its challenges and distractions. Children with disabilities need to be immersed in this microcosm of the "real world," beginning in preschool and continuing throughout their educational careers. This is the "normal" world that they will be required to live and work in, so their education ought to take place in classrooms that reflect that world. To be truly prepared to take part in the real world as adults, children with disabilities need to be educated in language-rich classrooms and to interact daily with peers who are appropriate role models.

Full inclusion occurs when a child with a disability learns in a general education classroom alongside his or her agemates with all the necessary supports. These supports are provided through extensive teamwork and communication. Moreover, in providing these supports, schools must always consider the best interests of the student with disabilities, his or her peers, and all the members of the inclusion team, including the special educator, the general educator, parents, building administrators, therapists, and other support personnel.

Whatever else it may be, inclusion should never be seen as a money-saving option for a school or district. Under inclusion, no support services are taken away from students; indeed, even more support may be required to enable a student to function optimally in the general education classroom. In addition, all members of the inclusion team will need training, and that training should continue as long as the child with special needs is included in the general classroom. An individual child's educational program is developed and owned by all team members. There is not a single expert, but a team of experts who contribute interdependently to each child's program.

The Basis for Inclusion

We base our support for the philosophy of inclusion on three fundamental arguments. First, we believe that inclusion has a legal base. The great majority of court cases have not upheld the traditional practice of segregating students with special educational needs. Many cases are still pending, but it is unusual to pick up an education journal today without seeing some reference to inclusion and the legal mandates that support the practice. The bottom line of the argument for inclusion is that each child has a legal right to an equal opportunity to obtain an education in the "least restrictive environment" possible. For many advocates of inclusion, the fight for inclusion has become a civil rights issue in that segregated programs are seen to be inherently unequal and a violation of the rights of students with special educational needs.

A second argument for inclusion rests on the results of research on best practices. Research continues to show that students who are not pulled out do better than those who are segregated. Analyses of segregated special education programs indicate that they have simply not worked. Despite increases in spending and the growth of the special education bureaucracy, children in segregated special education programs have not shown the growth that was predicted. …

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