Definition of Inclusion:
"Providing to all students, including those with significant disabilities, equitable opportunities to receive effective educational services, with needed supplementary aids and support services, in age-appropriate classes in their neighborhood schools, in order to prepare students for productive lives as full members of society."
National Center on Educational Restructuring and Inclusion (1)
Benefits from Inclusion have been researched and documented (Judy S. Itzkowitz, PhD, 6/98). First and foremost, students with disabilities and general education students will gain preparation for living in the greater community. They will gain enhanced attitudes toward people with disabilities. Also, students will add to their sensitivity, acceptance, and appreciation of diversity, disability and differences among people. Students will find they are less uncomfortable with people with disabilities after spending time daily in such activities as learning and socializing (lunch, enrichment classes, homeroom, and dismissal). All students will increase their learning and make gains in academic and social skills. Students will find improvement in flexibility, empathy and increased responsiveness to other children. Children and even their parents will increase their awareness of other children's needs. Someday, one never knows, but if a student has the misfortune to have to deal with disability in their own lives this experience will increase their preparedness to deal with that. Self-esteem will be increased after having the positive experience of supporting another person. Also, students have learned how to work together as a group or team when facing a challenge.
The Connecticut State Department of Education has recently defined a person with an Intellectual Disability (ID) as a person with significant limitations both in intellectual functioning and in adaptive behavior.
Adaptive behavior is the collection of skills that have been learned by people in order to function in their daily lives. The person with an Intellectual Disability has trouble expressing him/her, and following directions given. Also, they have difficulty with Social or Interpersonal skills. This means the person may have difficulty with things like responsibility, self-esteem, gullibility (vulnerability to being tricked or manipulated), naiveté, ability to follow rules, ability to obey laws, and the ability to avoid victimization. Practical skills, or daily living skills are also deficient. When eating, toileting, or dressing the person may require assistance. Meal preparation, housekeeping, using public transportation, taking medication, managing money, or using the telephone may also be areas of weakness where the person would need help. Occupational skills, necessary for meaningful work; and maintaining safe environments are other areas which may be deficient.
Connecticut State Department of Education Guidelines (2)
The Federal Definition of Intellectual Disabilities varies a little from the current definition the State of Connecticut Department of Education uses:
Significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects a child's educational performance. (3)
Intellectual Functioning is related to the spontaneous application of thinking and problem solving strategies as well as volitional control of their application to everyday situations. (4)
Protection of Students with Intellectual Disabilities:
The federal Bureau of Education for the Handicapped was established when the first comprehensive Federal Law was passed to protect Special Needs students. Prior to this time, students who needed Special Education (specialized instruction to address special learning needs) often did not receive the help they needed and worse than that, often were mistreated with no recourse.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was first enacted in 1975 and has been revised several times. This federal law was adopted and adapted by the State of Connecticut. The most recent re-authorization by Congress was signed into law in 2004.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004 was passed almost unanimously by the United States Congress on November 20, 2004. The law went into effect on July 1, 2005. The new law also reinforces the mandates of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal law, protecting students with disabilities and emphasizing accountability. Students with Disabilities, specifically, will have access to the General Education curriculum (that all students are taught.)
Because of these laws, school districts must provide to every student a "Free and Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) which means that parents and students can go to a Due Process Hearing if school and family disagree. Because some families chose to use this process, a recent class action law suit was settled (The "PJ Case") in which students with Intellectual Disabilities were promised a chance to be educated with their "Non Disabled Peers" to the "maximum extent appropriate". The right to be educated in the General Education setting along side their Typical Peers" (Inclusion) has been guaranteed.
Schools must obtain signed consent from parents before providing Special Education and related services to the child.
Testing the Law
All teachers in Connecticut must become familiar with the legal expectations of teaching students with Intellectual Disabilities.
The class action case,
P.J. ET AL (Plaintiffs) v. State of Connecticut, Board of Educat
ET AL (Defendants),
became famous in the last decade. Because of the decision in the "PJ Case", we are all now required to teach students identified with Intellectual Disabilities, in our classrooms.
This case was filed in 1991 by five school-age children with mental retardation and their families and was certified as a class action lawsuit on December 13, 1993. The court approved the settlement on May 22, 2002.
The class includes all school-age children with the label mental retardation/intellectual disability on or after February 20, 1991, who are not educated in regular classrooms.
This class action suit was tried and settled in Federal Court in regards to students with "Intellectual Disabilities" (ID). School districts must now meet the following 5 goals:
1. To reduce the disparate identification of students with Intellectual Disabilities. African American students, especially boys, were over-identified. Upon re-examination, school teams found students who really were not Intellectually Disabled.
2. To increase the percent of students with Intellectual Disabilities who are placed in Regular Education classes. Being included in Regular Education classes is mandatory.
3. To increase the mean and median percent of the school day that students with Intellectual Disabilities spend with Non Disabled students. ID students must spend increasing amounts of time in the Regular Education class with peers of their same age.
4. To increase the percent of students with Intellectual Disabilities who attend the school they would attend if not disabled (home school.) No longer were students to be sent to a different school, outside their neighborhood, to be educated.
5. To increase the percent of students with I.D. who participate in school sponsored extra-curricular activities with Non Disabled peers. ID kids could go to all school dances, clubs and activities and in fact, would be encouraged to do so.
During State Department of Education "Walkthrough Reviews" of students Individualized Education Programs (IEP), the following indicators are to be observed: Each observable indicator is recorded. If there is sufficient evidence of the indicator, the observer awards one point. If there is little or no evidence of the indicator, there is no point awarded (zero):
INDICATORS #1 -6:
1. The student is seated within the same seating structure as the other students in the room. (Conversely: Student is in a study carrel, separate seat apart from the regular group, or back of the room.)
2. The general education teacher is the main provider of the instruction or assessment or as a part of a co-teaching support, in partnership with the special education teacher. (A paraprofessional or other adult may be available to assist the student when necessary, but the student is viewed as attentive to the teacher and the teacher is attentive to the student.) (Conversely: Student is being taught by a paraprofessional or special ed teacher and is not part of the regular classroom instruction/lesson.)
3. Student is engaged in the same curricular activity as the other members of the class. (The material/instruction may be accommodated or the content/performance accommodated or modified for student's needs but these do not change the intent or nature of the activity from the grade level standard.)(Conversely: Student is engaged in a separate unrelated activity or different content area. Student's activity is weakly connected to the grade level standard, more superficial in nature.)
4. The general education teacher or the general education-special education co-teachers check for the student understanding of the concept (rather than another adult in the room assuming total responsibility for checking the student's understanding.) (Conversely: Para or special ed teacher who is not teaching the lesson checks for understanding. The special ed teacher is not part of a dynamic co-teaching arrangement.)
5. Peer assistance is occurring as appropriate to the culture of the classroom (if students are permitted to assist each other, than this is also occurring for the student being observed.)(Conversely: Student is assisted by paraprofessional of the teacher rather than a peer, or student receives no help at all from peer/s.)
6. Peer interactions between the student and peers are comparable to other students in the class (student engages peers and peers engage the student.) (Conversely: Student does not attempt to interact with peer or makes an attempt to engage a peer who does not respond to him/her. Peer engages the student but student does not respond or responds inappropriately.)
Vocabulary related to PJ Case:
1. Intellectually Disabled: Previously identified as Mentally Retarded
2. Non-disabled Peers: Regular Education or General Education Students
3. TWNDP: Time with Non Disabled Peers; time spent in Regular Education class with students of the same age.
4. Modify: Adjust curriculum
5. Accommodate: To assist with access to educational content
6. Due Process: A process where school and families come to a settlement when there is a disagreement. Hearing officers may hear both parents' and school's "sides" of the rationale for placing the student in a certain program. (5)
Down Syndrome (an Intellectual Disability):
Down Syndrome is a syndrome caused by a genetic anomaly, which can be diagnosed at birth. A child with Down Syndrome has various physical abnormalities. These include "almond - shaped" eyes, a short neck and an oversized tongue, short stature and unusual flexibility in the joints. Cognitive deficits or levels of mental retardation vary from mild to moderate to severe. (6)
Many years ago, students with Down Syndrome were taken from their families at a very young age and institutionalized until their death (usually after age 45). In the United States, when parents were told their baby had Down Syndrome, they were often advised to place their child in an institution. Up until about 20 years ago, places like Southbury Training School in Southbury, CT and the New Haven (CT) Regional Center educated a few children and adults who may have lived at home, and a majority of their students resided there, at the school. Families might visit or take their adult child or adult sibling out for a day or two for a special occasion. The New Haven Regional Center no longer exists in that capacity.
Currently in Connecticut, families of students with an Intellectual Disability receive varied forms of support. The Department of Mental Retardation (DMR), a state agency, may assign a case workers to assist families. A DMR worker may attend school meetings with the parent of an ID student. Case workers help parents manage their student at home.
DMR offers a Respite Program to allow parents to take a break or a rest from the ongoing role of parent. Respite can be provided for an afternoon, an evening or weekend. Someone may come to stay at the student's house or respite may take place in the home of a friend, relative, neighbor or trained respite provider.
High School students will have Pre-Vocational goals included in their Individual Education Program (IEP) which relate to future job tasks. Students are expected to learn and practice skills they will need for possible jobs in the workforce. These tasks may include cleaning, cooking or child care skills.
Connecticut's current special education requirements mandate school teams to formally plan for teenage students' transitions to life after High School graduation (at age 21). Transition Plans are designed and included in a student's academic plan in order to prepare for life after public school. Students and parents are interviewed about possible vocational goals for adult life. Each year the plan is reviewed and refined.