In 1975, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This act guarantees to all children a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment that will promote academic and social development. For years, special needs children were segregated from the rest of the children in the school. We called these classes “resource” classes and labeled the teachers ”special education” teachers. After a series of lawsuits, school districts began main-streaming special needs students from segregated special education settings into standard classrooms. The process is called “inclusion”. Texas educational reforms have encouraged school districts to teach special education students the same curriculum as other students, with modifications if necessary. State law requires that all students with learning disabilities be considered for placement in other programs before being referred to special education.

The Debate Continues

Inclusion advocates argue that placing special needs youngsters in standard classrooms will encourage them “to meet higher academic standards and to emulate their more successful peers.” They also argue that inclusion cultivates empathy and tolerance among special students’ classmates and teachers. Many teachers in standard classrooms see it differently. This placement of children with special needs in standard classrooms has caused stress and extra work for many teachers who are untrained and unprepared to deal with special needs children. Most studies show that teachers, like the general public, have concerns regarding both students with special needs and mainstreaming. Teachers are most uncomfortable mainstreaming emotionally disturbed and intellectually disabled students. Much of this discomfort is caused by a lack of knowledge about disabilities, lack of experience with disabled students, and minimal training in teaching these students. Even though PL 94-142 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act entitle education staff to comprehensive training, many standard classroom teachers have not received enough training. In some instances, teachers have been told by administrators that watching a video will suffice. Many opponents maintain that full inclusion practices are based on budgetary and social motivation and not on what most Americans think classrooms ought to be about, which is basic education. They point out that Congress sends to the states less than 10% of the cost of educating special needs students. For example, special education in a self-contained setting in New York City cost almost $19,000 per student in 1993. By contrast, New York City spent $6,000 per student in standard classrooms. In Texas, the amount of special education grants will be reduced next year. This will probably force more children with special needs into standard classrooms.

The Process

Section 89.218 of Chapter 19 of the Texas Administrative Code says: (a) In providing programs, services and activities for students with special needs, a school district shall first use those resources made available to all students. (b) When appropriate, students with special needs shall

      (1) remain in the standard education program with special education support services, supplementary aids, or other special arrangements, if needed.

      (2) be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with students who have no special needs.

Responsibilities of the Standard Classroom Teacher

Under both State and Federal rules, the standard classroom teacher is expected to modify methods, materials, and pacing so that students with disabilities can benefit from instruction in the well-balanced curriculum within the standard classroom. The Admission, Review, Dismissal (ARD) Committee must consider whether the goals of the student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) can be met in the standard classroom with supplementary aids and services. Unless there are unusual circumstances, the ARD Committee must presume that each student can be educated in the standard classroom. It is now the classroom teacher’s responsibility to balance the needs of all students. This includes children in special education programs and IDEA (504). If you refuse to follow a range of modifications, you can be sued. In special education placements, and to a lesser degree in 504 placements as well, you must be given a range of ideas and assistance by the administration.