Creating a Master Schedule that Supports Inclusive Practices

By Dale Pennell, C.A.S.
May/June 2012

A wise school principal recently said: Our inclusion program has never been as good as it should have been because we had other priorities in our scheduling . . . Now we realize that the education of all students in our building must take top priority. We can provide more and more intensive services for these students if we schedule better. The tail can’t wag the dog! (McLeskey & Waldron, 2000, p. 41)

Does your school’s master schedule limit the effectiveness of your efforts to include students with disabilities in a meaningful way that supports their academic progress? Following are steps you may take to ensure that the tail doesn’t wag the dog as you develop your next master schedule.

  1. Create a matrix. In column 1, list the names of included students who need support from school-based special education staff. At the top of the remaining columns, list the general education courses in which these students will be enrolled. Use the matrix to mark the courses in which each student will require in-class support (see Table 1: Matrix for Identifying Students’ Direct Service Requirements/Number of Teachers/Number of Course Sections Required).

  2. Use the completed matrix to determine staffing needs (visit for Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia on page 90.

  3. Determine the number of sections into which to schedule students with disabilities for each course. Ideally, the percentage of special education students assigned to each course/section should reflect the special education demographics of the school (Capper, Frattura, & Keyes, 2000). In reality, no more than 20% of the students in a class should require special education services (Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000).

  4. Identify the general education teachers in whose classes direct services will be provided and the periods during which the students will be included.

  5. Select the special education personnel who will be assigned to each inclusive course/section in which students with disabilities require instructional support.

  6. Designate common planning periods for participating general and special education teachers (see Table 2: Sample Co-Planning and Co-Teaching Schedule for Two Special Educators).

  7. Enter the courses/sections and common planning periods into the master schedule first and in a manner that avoids obvious scheduling conflicts among courses/sections at each grade level.

  8. Add to the master schedule other courses/sections in which special education students will be enrolled (but that do not require in-class services from special education personnel) in a manner that minimizes conflicts with the courses/sections entered in Step 7.

  9. Enter the rest of next year’s courses/classes into the master schedule.

  10. Hand-schedule (by course/section/class) students with disabilities and input their schedules. If computer scheduling is employed, a decision must be made to either enter hand-scheduled course requests for students with special needs first or resolve conflicts by hand-scheduling later – that is, whether to put in extra time hand-scheduling before or after computer scheduling (Power-deFur & Orlove, 1997).

Administrative skill in shaping an inclusion-friendly master schedule is critical to the success of an instructional program that strives to place students with disabilities in classrooms with general education teachers proficient in delivering the SOL curriculum.


Capper, C., Frattura, E., & Keyes, M. (2000). Meeting the needs of students of all abilities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. (2000). Inclusive schools in action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Power-deFur, L., & Orlove, F. (1997). Inclusive education: Practical implementation of the least restrictive environment. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publications.

Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V. L., & Williams, B. T. (2000). Collaboration for inclusive education. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Table 1

Matrix for Identifying Students’ Direct Service Requirements/Number of Teachers/Number of Course Sections RequiredM

Values derived from Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (p. 90)

Table 2

 Sample Co-Planning and Co-Teaching Schedule for Two Special Educators