Inclusive education is altering how classroom learning is approached in this country, offering a gateway to educational opportunities for people of all ages with disabilities. Providing special education programs in mainstream schools for students with learning disabilities is mandatory through IDEA, though integrating inclusivity within a class setting has sparked conflicting viewpoints. There are still challenges to overcome, especially during these COVID times.
A Brief History of IDEA
The exclusion of students with learning disabilities in public schools can be traced back to the 1890s and remained in practice until special education programs became mandatory in 1975 following the Education for All Handicapped Children Act or EAHCA. The Act was revised and received a new name, the IDEA or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
What is IDEA?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitles students with disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) within a least restrictive environment (LRE). Inclusion means that students with disabilities have the right to share the same age-appropriate classroom and federally approved curriculum as those without disabilities. All students are supported in their learning collectively, participating in all social and educational aspects within school life.
In 2019-20, according to the National Centre for Education Statistics, 14.4 percent of all US students aged 3 through 21 were in special education. All states must provide special education services that meet federal standards to receive funding. They can exceed these standards but not drop below them. Teachers, counselors, and parents participate in identifying a student’s unique educational and support requirements to develop an IEP or Individualized Education Program for the student.
Is Inclusive Education Working?
Research has found that students with disabilities attending an inclusive teaching environment learn more. They also become more socially confident, and their classmates benefit by improved overall performance and attitude. Inclusive education gives students from all backgrounds and abilities the opportunity to learn side by side, to the advantage of all.
Some challenges still need to be addressed, including additional support for teachers not formally trained to instruct students with special needs. Challenges with disruptive behavior can also affect classrooms and negatively impact the performance of other students.
Laying the Groundwork
To ensure that IDEA standards are complied with, more resources are needed. Schools require continued support for effective inclusive education. The COVID pandemic has placed new challenges on schools with the return to the classroom. To help promote student and teacher confidence and enthusiasm, state governments are providing guidelines.
Inclusion lays the groundwork for young people with disabilities to develop the skills for their future that will enable them to join the workforce and enhance their overall quality of life.
Slowly but surely, shifting viewpoints towards individuals with disabilities are helping to effect positive change in educational standards. Increased awareness enables teaching and support organizations to give students more autonomy.
At the Independent Living Association, our highly trained staff remains committed to providing an environment that promotes self-sufficiency to enable Individuals to thrive. To learn more about our programs and services, please visit www.ilaonline.org.