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Paula Kluth, Richard A. Villa and Jacqueline S. Thousand identify some common misconceptions that stand in the way of an inclusive education:

Many families and teachers have the common misperception that students with disabilities cannot receive an inclusive education because their skills are not "close" enough to those of students without disabilities. Students with disabilities, however, do not need to keep up with students without disabilities to be educated in inclusive classrooms; they do not need to engage in the curriculum in the same way that students without disabilities do; and they do not need to practice the same skills that students without disabilities practice. Learners need not fulfill any prerequisites to participate in inclusive education.

Three people at a table
Photo courtesy Mary Ulrich

We often hear teachers and families talking about inclusion as if it were a policy that schools can choose to adopt or reject. Special education is not a program or a place, and inclusive schooling is not a policy that schools can dismiss outright.

Since 1975, federal courts have clarified the intent of the law in favor of the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education. A student with a disability should be educated in the school he or she would attend if not identified as having a disability.

The school must devise an individualized education program that provides the learner with the supports and services that the student needs to receive an education in the least restrictive environment possible.

The standard for denying a student access to inclusion is high… If schools can successfully educate a student with disabilities in general education settings with peers who do not have disabilities, then the student's school must provide that experience.

Woman sitting
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D

Across the United States, many school districts still operate programs for discrete groups of students. Separate programs and classrooms exist for students identified with certain labels—emotional disabilities, for example—and for students with perceived levels of need, such as severe or profound disabilities. In many cases, students enter these self-contained settings without an opportunity to receive an education in a general classroom with the appropriate aids and services…

School districts that automatically place students in a pre-determined type of school solely on the basis of their disability or perceived level of functioning rather than on the basis of their education needs clearly violate federal laws.

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Photo courtesy Sandy Andrews and Connie Johnson