Educators struggle with many issues related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Support for the concept is not universal among parents or professionals. Some fear that the individualized programs and attention that students with disabilities need may be sacrificed for inclusion in the general education classroom. Others are certain that inclusion is just another fad and will soon pass into educational history along with other ideas and programs. Still others are uncertain about exactly what inclusion means. Does inclusion mean all students in general education classrooms all the time or is there a place for pullout programs?
There is a range of concerns among those professionals who support the concept of inclusion. Some feel that full inclusion for all students cannot happen quickly enough; others take a more cautious, "wait and see" approach. There are those who wish to include students with disabilities but are uncertain about how to begin. Other educators, constrained by a lack of time and other resources, have little inclination to begin something that they are not certain about completing successfully.
Inclusion changes the working situation of not only special and general educators, but all members of the staff and school community including bus drivers, custodial staff, support staff, related service providers, and administrators. As with any major change, the move toward inclusive service delivery must not be undertaken lightly. Such a move represents a major shift in attitude and practice and has the potential to create change in all aspects of a school program. In many instances students with disabilities have been viewed as the responsibility of special educators. In an inclusive school that is no longer the case, as all educators share responsibility for the education of all students. Teacher and student schedules, field trip procedures, grading, student assessment, cafeteria routines, and classroom arrangements are among a few of the practices that might change when creating an inclusive environment.
If a school staff decides to embrace the challenge of inclusion, how and where does the process begin? A review of the professional literature provides several important steps in developing an inclusive program.
Develop a School-wide Philosophy of Inclusion
By reviewing the position statements of professional organizations regarding inclusion, staff members and parents can understand the range of issues and concerns and begin to agree on a common philosophy of inclusion. The philosophy should articulate beliefs and values that will guide staff members in making program decisions that support those values.
Seek Family Involvement
Parents and family members have been the driving force, not only in the development of PL 94-142, but in major regulatory and philosophical developments in the field since that time. With parents as key stakeholders, the move toward inclusive service delivery can be more productive and positive. Family members can provide important support in developing the program.
Although many sound decisions are made on teacher intuition and judgment, a change of this magnitude requires extensive planning. A move to inclusive service delivery has the potential to impact every facet of the school program, every staff member, and each student. Through thoughtful and thorough planning, disruptions and unintended consequences can be reduced. Planning must consider resources available for staffing, scheduling of students, professional development opportunities, and other needs. School staff members must plan to proceed with implementation of inclusive practices at a pace that can be supported and maintained by available resources.
Evaluate the program
Setting goals and planning for the evaluation of those goals in the beginning can provide direction to staff members as they make the day-to-day decisions in program development. McCleskey and Waldron (1996) suggest the following criteria to determine a "good" inclusion program.
- General education students make as much or more social and academic progress as they would in a non-inclusive classroom.
- Students with disabilities make as much or more social and academic progress as they would in a separate classroom.
As school programs change to become more inclusive of students with disabilities, staff members will continue to confront difficult and important questions regarding inclusion. There may be staff members who continue to express reservations regarding the change and others who are frustrated that service delivery is not changing quickly enough. A school-wide philosophy of inclusion, meaningful family involvement, extensive planning, and a process for evaluating the program will provide the support and direction to reaffirm the commitment to inclusive service delivery.
Lipsky, D. K., & Gartner, A. (1994, September) Inclusion: What it is, what it is not, and why it matters. Exceptional Parent, 36-38.
McLeskey, J., & Waldron, N. L. (1996). Responses to questions teachers and administrators frequently ask about inclusive school programs. Phi Delta Kappan, 78,150-155.
Planning for inclusion. (1995, July). NICHCY News Digest, 5, 1-9.
Vaughn, S., & Schumm, J. S. (1995). Responsible inclusion for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 28, 264-270, 290.
Date: March/April 1998