Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Inclusion: Alive and Well in the Green Mountain State

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Inclusion: Alive and Well in the Green Mountain State

Article excerpt

In Vermont, 83% of schoolchildren with disabilities are educated in "regular" classrooms, as opposed to just 36% nationwide. Ms. Thousand and Mr. Villa explore the outcomes of Vermont's inclusion policies and the lessons that they offer for others who are interested in promoting inclusive education.

Sparsely populated and mountainous, Vermont is celebrated for its small-town community spirit and its dedication to local control over decision making. It is one of the few places in the U.S. where citizens still make public policy in old-fashioned "town meetings." In many communities virtually the entire populace turns out for a daylong annual meeting to debate and decide on civic issues, large and small.

Such traditional means of making public policy, however, have not prevented Vermont from taking progressive positions. Indeed, Vermont leads the nation in the inclusion of children with disabilities in general education. In the Green Mountain State, 83% of schoolchildren with disabilities are educated in "regular" classrooms, as opposed to just 36% nationwide. Moreover, the outcomes of the state's inclusion policies offer lessons for school districts, for leaders of educational and advocacy groups, and for personnel in other state departments of education who are interested in promoting inclusive education.

Historical Background

No practice or policy in any field arises from a vacuum. The seeds of inclusive education in Vermont were sown more than 25 years ago. Today, they are deeply rooted in a continuing effort to promote the best educational practice through statewide staff development, model demonstration projects, and intensive assistance to local schools.

In Vermont, as in most states, the first educational opportunities for children with disabilities came about from the efforts of individual parents and parent organizations, such as the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC). Their efforts led to the creation of private programs outside of public education. The state's history of providing public services for children with disabilities began in the early 1960s, when existing private schools that had been founded by the state's ARC became part of the public school system.

In 1968 the Vermont legislature first appropriated money to support school districts' provision of special education services. Unlike other states, Vermont did not set up categorical and separate programs for students with learning and other mild disabilities. Instead, it focused on staff development and the development of supports for local schools. To this end, the Consulting Teacher Program was started as a joint venture involving the Vermont Department of Education, local schools, and the University of Vermont. The express goal of the program was to train special educators to ensure - through consultation, teacher training, and team teaching - appropriate support for students with disabilities who were in the mainstream. The program expanded over the next decade, and by the end of the 1970s the number of people providing support through the Consulting Teacher Program exceeded the number providing pull-out services in resource rooms.

In 1975 the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) brought educational opportunity to children with disabilities who had little or no opportunity for education before. In Vermont P.L. 94-142 supported the formation of regional classes for students with severe disabilities within public schools. Until that time, most of these children had not been in the public schools, nor had they been afforded meaningful education at home or in the institutions in which they resided.

To provide training and technical assistance to the teachers who were taking on the new role of educating these "most challenged" students, the state department of education and the state legislature supported the creation of an interdisciplinary support team known as the I-Team. …

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