An ongoing debate exists regarding what satisfies inclusion requirements. “Inclusion,” or the idea that students with disabilities should be fully integrated members of a general education classroom, was federally recognized in the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. The law guaranteed children with special needs the right to be educated in a public school in their neighborhood. In 1997, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandating that students aged 3 to 21 be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). Congress revised and updated IDEA in 2004 by passing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA). The IDEIA does not specifically use the word “inclusion”. The IDEIA does, however, require school districts to place students in the LRE. In fact, federal law requires school districts to ensure that, “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities…[are] educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” 20 U.S.C. § 1412 (a)(5)(A). Against this backdrop arises the debate regarding when, and to what extent, inclusion is required.
Proponents of full inclusion argue that federal law requires a school district to educate students with disabilities alongside typically developing students rather than placing them in specialized schools or classes. Proponents also maintain that full inclusion benefits teachers and typically developing students, as well as students with disabilities. By contrast, opponents of full inclusion argue that when drafting the law, the legislature specifically included the phrase “to the maximum extent appropriate” to provide school districts with the flexibility necessary to offer alternative, non-general education placements to students with disabilities which may be more appropriate to meet the needs of those students. Opponents also frequently express concern regarding the potential financial expense and disruption to the general education learning environment which may be caused by the inclusion of students with disabilities in such classrooms. School districts are tasked with creating a plan that fits each individual student’s needs.
Some students with disabilities are able to make appropriately ambitious progress within a general education setting with uniquely tailored supports and/or curriculum modifications. Examples of supplementary aids and services available to such students include but are not limited to modifications to the academic curriculum, assistance of a Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT), special education training for the general education teacher, use of computer-assisted devices, provision of notetakers, special seating arrangements, books on tape, highlighted work, study guides, peer supports, paraprofessional support, behavior management plans and instructional materials in other formats. Unfortunately, a general education setting may not necessarily be appropriate for all students with disabilities even with the provision of uniquely tailored supports. School districts nevertheless have the responsibility of educating students with disabilities in classrooms alongside typically developing peers to the maximum extent possible based on the individual student’s abilities. To meet this responsibility, school districts must make individualized inquiries into the unique educational needs of each student to determine the possible range of aids and supports each student requires to make appropriately ambitious progress. This is the standard recently established by the Supreme Court’s decision in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. In New York, the Board of Regents explained that to meet the requirements of LRE, a school district may only place students with disabilities in special classes, separate schools, or other placement outside of the general education classroom when, even with the provision of supplementary aids and services, a school district cannot satisfactorily provide the student with an education due to the nature and severity of the student’s disability.
The New York State Education Department sets forth a continuum ofspecial education servicesfor school-age students with disabilities which offers an array of services available to meet an individual student's needs, including but not limited to consultant teacher services (direct and/or indirect), resource room, related services (such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech language therapy, counseling, etc.), integrated co-teaching (ICT) and special classes.
(See eg. http://www.p12.nysed.gov/specialed/publications/policy/schoolagecontinuum-revNov13.htm for additional information regarding the continuum). For those students for whom a general education classroom is not appropriate, school districts must offer a full continuum of alternative placements designed to meet the differing unique educational needs of the students enrolled in the district. Committees on Special Education (CSE) are tasked with the responsibility of determining what placement is appropriate for each individual student. Placement options available to the CSE include but are not limited to instruction in a general education classroom with support, special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions.
A CSE should consider the entire continuum of services when determining what type of placement is most appropriate for a particular student. It may not base its program recommendation upon the availability, or unavailability, of special education programs which exist in a particular school district. If a student requires an educational program that does not exist in his or her local school district, the CSE must seek assistance from a Field Support Center to implement the educational program recommended on the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). If you think the CSE failed to consider the entire continuum of services when offering a placement for your child, or if you would like to learn more about the types of placements which may be available to your child, you should consult with a special education attorney to get the answers you need to protect your child’s rights.