Special education and mainstream students both benefit from being educated in a classroom together. Some of those benefits include increased social initiations, peer role models, greater access to general curriculum, and enhanced skill acquisition. Inclusion works best for the whole class when we support the student and teacher as intended by the law.
Legal Requirement: Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
Once a student with a disability’s program is developed the IEP team must determine where the program will be executed. This is referred to as placement. Students with a disability are entitled to be educated in the LRE. Removal of students with disabilities occurs only when the nature and severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (20 U.S.C. 1412(5)(A)
There are several levels of LRE:
- Regular classroom: student receives a prescribed program under the direction of the regular classroom teacher.
- Regular classroom with consultation: student receives a prescribed program under the direction of the regular classroom teacher who is supported by ongoing consultation from the special educators (i.e. special education teachers, psychologists, behaviorists, etc.)
- Regular classroom with supplementary instruction and services: student receives a prescribed program under the direction of the regular classroom teacher. The student also receives instruction and related services from the special educator and a paraeducator.
- Resource room: Student is in the regular classroom for a majority of the school day but goes to the special education resource room for specialized instruction for part of each school day.
- Separate classroom/school: Student receives special education and related services under the direction of a specially trained staff in a specially designed classroom or facility.
- Residential school: Student receives special education and related services from specially trained staff in a residential facility in which children receive care or services 24 hours per day.
- Homebound or hospital: Student receives special education and related services at home or in a hospital program.
The IEP team must consider the continuum of placement options. Students may not be categorized into a particular group and offered placement based on that particular category. The level of placement must always be individualized with the student in mind.
Board of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District v. R. Holland (1992) 786 F.Supp. 874 provides four factors to consider:
- Educational benefits available to the child in a regular classroom, supplemented with appropriate aids and services, as compared to education benefits of a special education classroom;
- The non-academic benefits to the handicapped child of interaction with non-handicapped children;
- The effect of the presence of the handicapped child on the teacher and other children in the regular classroom; and
- The costs of supplementary aids and services necessary to mainstream the handicapped children in the regular classroom setting.
Using the factors above, the IEP team’s consideration should always start at the regular classroom. If the regular classroom, unsupported, is not the appropriate placement the next consideration would be the regular classroom with consultation services to the teacher or supplementary aides and services. Discussions should progress through the continuum until an appropriate placement is determined.
The Value of General Education Teachers Input
I have heard concerns from both parents and teachers about the impression that “general education teachers don’t want students with disabilities in their classrooms.” In most cases this isn’t true. Teachers want to be able to support all students in their classrooms. Concerns voiced by general education teachers often reflect a broader issue that students are being placed into general education classrooms without the appropriate supports This creates a difficult environment for the teacher, disabled student, and non-disabled peers.
If a student will spend any part of their day in the mainstream classroom, the IEP team is required to have a general education teacher as a part of the team. General education teachers should have the ability, without the fear of retaliation, to voice their input into an IEP meeting. If a student will be included into the mainstream classroom, a general education teacher can provide valuable insight into training needs, curriculum modifications, behavioral concerns, and other support needs.