Inclusive Education Laws
Inclusive education for students with disabilities is designed to ensure that all children receive a proper education in an environment that is not restricted. The major laws governing inclusive education are the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Since the original acts were passed, subsequent court cases have revolved around the exact definition of "least restrictive environment." Research has shown the inclusive education can improve academic achievement among disabled students, as well as foster more positive social interaction among disabled and non-disabled students. However, inclusion can deprive disabled students of specialized instruction, and, in some cases, disrupt the learning of non-disabled students.
Keywords Continuum of Alternative Placements; Education for All Handicapped Children Act; Inclusion; Individualized Education Plan (IEP); Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); Least Restrictive Environment; Mainstreaming; Related Services; Supplementary Aids and Services; Students with Disabilities
In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. The law came about, in part, after a report found that over 60% of the country's disabled students were not receiving an appropriate education, and some research indicated that millions of children constantly being excluded from school, or were not getting a proper education that could help, not hinder, their disabilities (Yell, 1998; Irmsher, 1995, as cited in McCarty, 2006). The law's intent was to make sure that students with disabilities would be taught with other children who did not have disabilities (Kluth, Villa & Thousand, 2002, as cited in McCarty, 2006). In 1991, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Irmsher, 1995, as cited in McCarty, 2006). Along with the renaming of the act, certain learning disabilities were reclassified, and autism and traumatic brain injury were added (McCarty, 2006).
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that students with disabilities be taught in the "least restrictive environment" possible with students who are not disabled (Lipton, 1994, as cited in McCarty, 2006) and that schools must take steps to ensure the comfort of children with disabilities in the regular classroom. These steps could include giving supplementary aids and changing the curriculum of the general education class (Yell, 1998). The updated Act also mandates that "various alternative placement options are required also by the regulations of the Act in order to assure that each student with disabilities receives an education which is appropriate for his/her individual need" (Wigle, Wilcox & Manges, 1994, as cited in McCarty, 2006). Another part of the act says that "special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of handicapped children from the regular education environment occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (Yell, 1998; McCarty, 2006).
The Least Restrictive Environment Mandate
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to educate students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible, which means they should be educated as closely as possible with students who do not have disabilities. Thus, students with disabilities have a right to be educated in a regular education classroom with their peers. The second part states that students do not have to be educated in a regular classroom with their non-disabled peers if they cannot be satisfactorily educated. This means that if students with disabilities cannot receive an education in a regular classroom that meets their particular needs, they may move to a different educational setting where they can receive an appropriate education. With respect to least restrictive environments, a general education classroom is considered to be the least restrictive and any educational setting that affords students with disabilities little contact with their non-disabled classmates is considered to be more restrictive (Yell, 1998). The less an educational setting for students with disabilities mirrors a general education environment, the more restrictive the environment is considered to be (Gorn, 1997, as cited in Yell, 1998).
A least restrictive environment is considered to be any setting that is limited in its educational restraining for the student, which allows them to grow, learn, and succeed in an educational setting. It is up to each student's individualized education program (IEP) team or a group consisting of parents, educators, and others who are involved with students with disabilities to determine what constitutes a least restrictive environment for each disabled student (McCarty, 2006).
Interpreting the Law
With the laws that helped establish inclusive education came court cases that specify what should be the proper implementation of inclusive education, but there is still no clear-cut language in court decisions that states how this should be done. This lack of clarity results in schools, school districts, and states interpreting the language of the law, which results in interpretations that match their particular view on inclusive education and the degree to which their students with disabilities are immersed in a regular general education classroom (McCarty, 2006). Issues and interpretations are further complicated by the fact that people both inside and outside of the education field often talk about “least restrictive environment,” “inclusion,” and “mainstreaming” as if they mean the same things when, in actuality, they cannot be used interchangeably (Douvanis & Hulsey, 2002, as cited in McCarty, 2006).
The concept of educating students in a least restrictive environment developed in the 1970s from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and has since become a requirement in all schools (Bateman & Bateman, 2002). Inclusion refers to having students with disabilities in a general education classroom with non-disabled students, and “implies that students with disabilities will be taught outside a regular education classroom only when all available instructional methods have been utilized and failed to meet their needs” (Bateman & Bateman, 2002, as cited in McCarty, 2006, p. 6). Full inclusion refers to placing children with disabilities in a regular education classroom every day (McCarty, 2006). Students with disabilities in an inclusive setting still receive direct support from special educators (Hines, 2001). Inclusion is different from mainstreaming because “students are part of only the general education classroom and do not belong to any other specialized education setting based on their disability” (Halvorsen & Neary, 2001, as cited in Hines, 2001, p. 2).
Mainstreaming is used to refer to when students with disabilities are “in a special education classroom setting for most of the day and then go into a general education classroom for parts of the school day” when the general education class is working on activities where it is believed that the disabled student will excel (McCarty, 2006, p. 6).
The Continuum of Alternative Placements
To make sure that schools provide a range of educational opportunities for students with disabilities with respect to differing levels of least restrictive environment, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires school districts to have a continuum of alternative placements. Continuum of placements can include being taught in regular classes and schools as well as special classes and schools. Education in homes, hospitals or institutions is also included (Bateman & Bateman, 2002). The purpose of having a continuum of alternative placements is to enable the schools to select from a number of options when determining a student's placement so that they are not either completely included or completely excluded from participating with their...
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