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. . . but also by how well they treat their students with disabilities.

I have a five-year old son who has Down syndrome.  In honor of World Down Syndrome Day today, I want to talk about inclusion.

Inclusion is the practice of educating children with disabilities in general ed classrooms, alongside their non-disabled peers, with appropriate accommodations.  Inclusion is a federally sanctified right of children with disabilities through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Study after study has shown the benefits of inclusion: that children with disabilities fare better academically, socially, emotionally, and developmentally when they are educated in inclusive settings.  Non-disabled students benefit, as well.

Despite all of this, many school districts across the nation still segregate students with disabilities from their non-disabled peers as a matter of course.  My own school district practices segregation.  Our son is only five and in transitional kindergarten (TK) and we have had to fight our district at every turn concerning our son’s educational placement since he turned three years old.  We were told that he didn’t belong in a general ed classroom; that he would do better in a segregated special ed classroom; that the inclusive setting we were after just wasn’t possible.  We finally had to hire an attorney and spend thousands of dollars we couldn’t really afford in order to have our son’s basic legal rights honored.  As it turns out, the inclusive setting we were after IS possible, and he has done very well there.  We have an IEP meeting coming up again next month to discuss his kindergarten placement for the next school year, and unfortunately, we still do not feel that we can attend without an attorney.

This isn’t the way it should be.  Inclusion should be a given for every child; placement in a separate special ed classroom setting should be the exception, not the rule.  No matter what fancy names schools and districts give their special ed programs, if it involves segregation of students with disabilities from non-disabled students, it’s discrimination, and it’s not upholding basic rights provided by law.  Too often, we accept the idea of “special education” as a place – a separate classroom where the disabled kids go.  Special education, however, is how students with disabilities are educated, not where.  Special education can and should coexist with inclusion.

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