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An administrator's perspective.

Based on the recent experiences of La Grange Area Department of Special Education (LADSE) school districts and others throughout the United States in expanding inclusion opportunities for studies with disabilities, I want to share a series of insights about our recent implementation experiences that parents, educators and our children may find useful.

I am a passionate advocate of inclusion. I believe that many instructional options need to exist not only for students with disabilities, but for all students. Furthemore, I believe that the heterogeneity of the regular class needs to be expanded to help a broader range of learners to experience success--before any thought is given to removing a child with special needs from regular edcuation. Based upon the experiences of our children and families, when educators and families collaborate they can find practical ways to modify regular classrooms, where children with special needs would be if they never met special education placement committees.

I want to encourage others to learn from our disrict's inclusion experiences as well as their own. Although planning is important, often if not always the very best way to learn about inclusion is to do it.

In too many communities and among too many groups with good intentions the debates about inclusion are becoming more and more diverse-with exceedingly toxic results. Instead, I suggest that parents and professionals seek common ground about how to create the best opportunities for children.

Advocacy for maintaining a "full continuum of special education services" is not necessarily an anti-inclusion position. Inclusion advocates also believe in options and the availability of services, which sometimes can mean something other than the regular classroom. People who believe in maintaining a continuum may not necessarily advocate pulling children out of the regular class in order to receive special services.

Concerns about inclusion are frequently rooted in fears about the loss of procedural safeguards. Advocates for inclusion want to ensure that critical procedural safeguards follow each student in all instrumental environments.

Many parents and professionals agree that careful implementation of inclusion can be beneficial for a greater number of students. They also agree that significant issues remain regarding the measurement of outcomes that need to be pursued through careful research.

We need to be guided by the question: "What educational and social experiences will effectively prepare our children to lead fulfilled lives as adults?"

* There is good inclusion and bad inclusion. Good inclusion requires an absolute understanding and administrative commitment to re-allocating resources currently targeted for special education. School systems need to be prepared to spend at least as many resources as are now spent on pullout and/or traditional special education programs by re-allocating these dollars for special education supports within the regular education class.

* Parents and teachers need to develop collaborative partnerships. While "collaboration" continues to be the buzzword of the '90's and an appropriate goal, its achievement takes much effort, patience and willingness to adapt roles. True collaboration provides new roles. True collaboration provides new roles and validates competence: parent as parent and teacher, teacher as teacher and learner, learner as learner and person--competent about expressing his or her needs, preferences and aspirations. Inclusion requires a rejection of the expert model to pervasive in many schools. We are all competent in contributing talents to facilitate inclusive schools and communities.

* There is nothing wrong with special education. What is being questioned is not the interventions and knowledge that has been acquired through special education training and research. Rather, what is being challenged is the location where these supports are being provided to students with disabilities.

Special education needs to be re--conceptualized as a support to the regular education classroom, rather than as "another place to go." Recent research suggests that what is so wrong about speciasl education is the stigma and isolation that result from being removed from the regular education class from so long. We now have the effective strategies to bring help to the student rather than removing the student from the enriching setting of the regular education class.

* Children, unlike aults, often are positive about inclusion. While adults tend to have anxieties abotu inclusion (perhaps because it so contradicts our training and assumptions), children witout disabilities generally have very positive feelings about helping peers whbo need assistance.

When asked why adults sometimes assume they may not support each other, children often say, "It's because adults don't trust us to do the right things."

Our repeated experiences at LADSE assure us that students of all ages are more likely than not to "do the right thing." Indeed, students are able problem-solvers and contribute to designing new strategies that facilitate successful learning outcomes for their peers with disabilities.

Often we are reminded that the real experts about eight-year-olds' behavior are eight-year-old children. We would do well to rely more on children when we are seeking new strategies to motivate or enhance larning for their peers with challenges.

* Administrators must be committed to listening to teachers. Without administrative commitment to properly supporting students with special needs, "inclusion" would be nothing more than simply dumping. To be done well, inclusion requires commitment at each level of the principle that chilren with disabilities can learn within the regular classroom given proper supports. It also requires an answerving commitment by administrators and the school board that resources will be re-allocatedc to assure appropriate support to the regular education classroom. Ironically, resources usually are readily available. We now better understand the high cost associated with segregated pullout program models, especially those associated with bussing students outside their neighborhood school.

Teachers need to be given absolute, unqualified guarantees that children and teachers will be supported by re-allocating dollars currently spent on sometimes poor service models to better ones with regular edcation classrooms.

* Parents and professionals must acknowledge the important role special educators play as consultants and team teachers. Regular education teachers need to understand and appreciate the important role of special educators if inclusion is to be successful. Agian, "place" is the issue. Special educators can work effectively in the regular education classroom with other teachers, thereby enriching educational opportunities for al students.

* Inclusion provides reciprocal benefits for all students. Although the benefits of inclusion for children with disabilities have been emphasized because of the irreplaceable impact that contact with a range of other students provides, we have learned that heterogeneous instructional grouping provides everyone with increased learning opportunities and outcomes.

* Inclusion is a community ideal. Although much of the focus has been in schools--for understandable reasons, do not lose sight fo the ultimate goal--for each person to find a rightful and meaningful role in the community. There are unlimited resources in the community to help foster inclusion: not just in schools, but in every part of community life. When planning, it may be best to empower community inclusion committees with subcommittees that focus on schools, recreation, transportation, employment, religious organizations, etc. Remember: keep the eye on life after school when inclusion counts the most! Communities, not just schools, need to be prepared to support and be enriched by students with special needs!
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Title Annotation:Howard P. Blackman, 1993 Inclusion Award winner
Author:Blackman, Howard P.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:1176
Previous Article:A parent's perspective.
Next Article:Future goals: application of the Goals 2000: Education America Act to individuals with disabilities.
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