Background of Inclusion
Historically, the inclusion of students with exceptionalities in schools actually begins with the inclusion of non-white students in integrated public schools, as was mandated by the famous case, Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Acknowledged as one of the greatest Supreme Court decisions in American history, the Court’s unanimous decision led to the banning of segregation in public schools. This decision was made due to segregation violating the Equal Protection Clause and Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore the application of segregation was deemed discriminatory and unconstitutional. Furthermore, the separate institutions for white and African-American children were inherently unequal; black children in segregated schools had lower self-esteem than their white peers, which led psychologists to the conclusion that separation in itself leads to dangerous inferiority complexes that may have an adverse effect on the success of black children in academics (McBride). Ultimately, the decision did not immediately succeed in desegregating schools, it still set the foundation for more cases that would follow in its footsteps to support the rights of those who may not have originally been seen as equal under the eyes of the law.
Eleven years later, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known as ESEA) addressed the improper treatment of Americans living in poverty, therefore committing to helping lower- and working-class families gain access to quality education. Additionally, the act mandates that funds be used for professional development, instructional materials, educational resources, and to promote the involvement of parents. This act is renewed every five years, adding revisions and amendments (known as titles) during each cycle (Social Welfare). Included in the ESEA series of amendments is Public Law 91-230 (1970), which includes Title VI. Title VI advocates for the education of the handicapped, providing definitions for learning disabilities. Furthermore, the amendment was implemented to encourage adults to complete a high school education through the Adult Secondary Education component (History of the Adult Education Act, 2).
Another amendment to ESEA is Public Law 93-380. This law set procedures and criteria for education, providing funding for programs to aide handicapped, migratory, and delinquent children. Such programs put in place as a result of the law include the National Reading Improvement Program, which funds the use of additional resources to effectively teach students with reading deficiencies and learning disabilities (Perkins).
Public Law 94-142, known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, was established to ensure that children with disabilities have free appropriate public education available, with services designed to meet each child’s individual needs. Furthermore, the act ensured the protection of students’ and families’ rights, assists the states and local school districts in providing appropriate education for disabled children, and assesses the effectiveness of the institution’s efforts to provide an adequate education for students living with disabilities (Archived). This act helps provide the resources evident in the academic system in modern times.
Current Status of Inclusion in the Public School Setting
In today’s educational settings, students with disabilities and impairments are covered under requirements mandated by law. Two of the most common concepts discussed in special education are the plans that students with exceptionalities are able to receive accommodations under: The Individualized Education Plan and the 504 Plan.
The Individualized Education Plan assesses student needs and growth over the course of a designated time period. The information one may find in a student’s IEP includes their current performance or performance at the time of beginning the program, the annual goals that the child can reasonably accomplish within a year, the services that must be provided for the child (e.g. professional development for school faculty in order to assist the student), the student’s integration with non-disabled students, their participation in standardized testing (for example, a secondary school student in Ohio with a severe learning disability may not be required to pass the Ohio Graduation Test in order to graduate), the specific time and duration of when services are provided, transition service needs beginning when the child reaches the age of fourteen, and progress measurement (Guide to the Individualized Education Program). The IEP is commonly used when a student’s disability greatly interferes with their ability to perform in the classroom. For example, if a student is unable to comprehend their math homework due to Dyscalcula, this may greatly affect their ability to pass the course without assistance. However, if a student has a disability such as Asperger’s Syndrome (on the Autism spectrum) that may not have an adverse effect on their performance in the classroom but still leads to social or organizational deficits that make the school setting in general difficult for them, they will not be covered under the IEP. Instead, the student may be covered under the 504 Plan.
The 504 Plan is designed to help students with physical or mental impairments in order to ensure that students are treated fairly. These disorders may affect the student’s ability to walk, breathe, eat, sleep, communicate, see, hear, speak, read, concentrate, or work (Bachrach). Services provided by the 504 Plan to help these students include access to preferential seating, extended time on assignments, verbal and visual aids, excused tardiness or absence, and pre-approved nurse visits. These services provided by the IEP and 504 both strive to make living with disabilities less stressful for both students and their parents, assuring that every student can succeed with the support of their community.
My Experience with Inclusion in Schools
From September 2011 through to May 2016, I was a student at the Dayton Regional STEM School in Kettering, Ohio. Although funded like a typical public school, admission into the institution required the completion of an entrance application, admissions essay, parental explanation of the family’s interest in the school, and submission of Ohio Achievement Assessment scores to ensure the student’s ability to thrive in the academic program. Therefore, the vast majority of the students in my school came from the top quarters of their graduating middle school class, and were proven to have an ability to thrive in the mainstream classroom. However, there were roughly seven students (out of a 2016 graduating class of sixty) who did live with learning disabilities and/or disorders affecting their ability to attend classes. Of these students, the majority of them lived with Dyslexia, Dyscalcula, and Attention Deficit Disorder. The remaining students were covered under a 504 Plan, suffering from Chronic Migraine and similar neurological disorders. These were students who may not have needed academic accommodations, but needed exceptions to be made in other aspects of their education. Such examples include the option to complete frequently missed courses online, the allowance to miss a greater amount of school days than the average student (exceeding 20 absences), exemptions from certain class projects, and extended due dates in the event of a student’s inability to meet the original deadline due to hospitalizations and other extenuating circumstances. The students covered under the Individualized Education Plan had access to all of these resources, as well as having extended assessment time, assisted reading of test questions, and guidance in planning their assignments and responsibilities. Students under both plans were given access to a resource room which they had access to during their homeroom and study hall periods. However, all of the students were enrolled in mainstream courses.
One critique that could be made of the Dayton Regional STEM School’s policies regarding special education affairs is that it is insensitive to student privacy. Students would often be removed from their classroom for testing in non-discrete ways and teachers were (although not intentionally) vocal about who was receiving a “modified” exam, thus giving the students little to no confidentiality for their own academic records and progress. Therefore, although inclusion in the public school setting has come a long way, there is still a long way to go.
Inclusion Classroom Design
When designing the classroom structure, it is important to consider the educator’s personal behaviors as well as the behaviors of those in the classroom. One must keep a positive mindset about the abilities of all students; a student having a disability may be a hindrance to their goals, but it does not render them impossible. Therefore, it is important to respect the student’s goals and capabilities, encouraging them while also advocating for their comfort in the classroom. This means that educators must have a zero-tolerance policy for the harassment of students with disabilities in and out of the classroom, must respect the student’s confidentiality (therefore not discussing a student’s disability with others without their consent), and educating the entire classroom on diversity. Furthermore, it is important to respect the student’s personal identity by addressing them directly. The application of this concept is to call on the student themselves; a teacher should not ask their aide or companion to speak for them or exaggerate speech. This can be considered rude and condescending, even if intended to be helpful. Additionally, when working with hearing impaired students, it is important to always have the mouth faced towards them (and in a well-lit room) so that the student may read their lips (Brown University). Also, it is highly recommended not to require verbal presentations for those with speech or hearing impairments; it is often humiliating to the child. Most importantly, as an educator, it is important to respect the student as an individual. An individual is not defined by their impairment or illness; they are their own person with their own values and cognitions. Therefore, when designing a classroom, it is important to remember to always uphold the most respectful behavior.
Through what I have learned about diversity and inclusion in school settings, I have come to the conclusion that as educators, it is of the utmost importance to be careful in how academic and administrative decisions affect the students’ ability to succeed in school. Students with specific learning, cognitive, and intellectual disabilities must be treated with the same amount of dignity and respect as their non-disabled peers, and therefore in order to ensure that students received the best education and transition services possible in order to become a contributing member of society when they graduate and/or reach the age of 21, educators and administrators must be sure to engage in professional and personal development to ensure that their knowledge expands. Furthermore, I have learned that I believe in assessing students based off of progress, in lieu of solely based upon accuracy. While accuracy is highly important, I believe that a student improving from consistently receiving scores of 40% should be celebrated for raising their scores to 70%, rather than being punished with low marks on report cards for not scoring high “enough.” Rather, I want my students to understand that it is persistence that will lead them to success someday, and that progress is always a great place to start.
ARCHIVED – Thirty-five Years of Progress in Educating Children With Disabilities Through IDEA– Pg 10. (2016, April 27). Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/idea35/history/index_pg10.html
Bachrach, S. J. (Ed.). (2016, September). 504 Education Plans. Retrieved April 02, 2017, from http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/504-plans.html
Brown University. (n.d.). Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/support/accessibility-services/resources-teaching-students-disabilities/interacting-students-disabilities
Guide to the Individualized Education Program. (2007, March 23). Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html?exp=0#contents
McBride, A. (2006, December). Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Retrieved April 2, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_brown.html
Perkins, C. (1974, August 21). H.R.69 – 93rd Congress (1973-1974): Elementary and Secondary Education Amendments. Retrieved April 02, 2017, from https://www.congress.gov/bill/93rd-congress/house-bill/69?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22pl%2B93-380%22%5D%7D&r=1
Social Welfare History Project (2016). Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved April 2, 2017, from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/education/elementary-and-secondary-education-act-of-1965/
History of the Adult Education Act: A Preview. (1991). Retrieved April 2, 2017, from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/AdultEd/anniv40/silver-a.pdf