Updated: Jul 7, 2021
One middle school that I consulted with wanted some suggestions on how to improve their inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities in specials (art, music, and physical education). A special education teacher walked me down to the art classroom, where the art teacher prepared for her next class.
In the large art room, there were spacious tables where students could spread out, and I imagined a full class where the teacher would disperse students of all abilities throughout the room. I asked the special education teacher how it looked when her students were included in the class, and she pointed at a small opening that led to an adjacent room. The annexed room was almost as large as the art room, with a few long tables but no other distinguishing features of a typical art classroom. “We are over there,” the special education teacher told me.
I looked at the art teacher and asked, “Her class is over there? While you are having art in here with everyone else?”
“Yeah,” the art teacher said. “I just thought they would be more comfortable if they have their own space.”
Hopefully this goes without saying, but just in case you aren’t picking up my meaning, this is a great example of doing inclusion wrong.
Even though many schools have the best intentions of including students with disabilities in the school community, there is a misunderstanding of what makes inclusive education actually inclusive. Here are some examples of ways your school might be doing inclusion wrong and what to do to make it right.
Your school might be doing inclusion wrong if…
…it has an inclusion classroom.
[GIF] a classroom of students sitting in their desks head-banging, some displaying the “rock n’ rock” hand gestures
There may be an art room, a science lab, and a music room, but an inclusion room means that at least in some classes the expectation is that students with disabilities are not welcome. Why should there be only one classroom where the expectations are for every student to belong? Inclusive schools rock! By using natural proportions and spreading out students with disabilities across all classrooms, we avoid an overrepresentation of students with disabilities assigned to a single classroom.
…it puts on a “special needs” prom.
[GIF] napoleon dynamite and deb dancing at prom; text reads: I like your sleeves
While there is certainly an argument for creating sensory-friendly spaces for large events like proms, there is a difference between creating a special event for people with disabilities and including disabled students in the planning of such an event. Everyone can have the chance to join in school community events when organizers plan for the success of all students.
…it only includes students with disabilities in specials (art, music, PE).
[GIF] a girl in PE class accidently gets hit in the face with a volleyball by her gym teacher
A common reason that is used to exclude students from general education is that people think they won’t be able to keep up or wonder, “What are they going to get out of it?” The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act explicitly states that students with disabilities should not be removed from regular classrooms solely because of the need for modifications to the general education curriculum.
…it uses inclusion readiness checklists for students with disabilities.
[GIF] a cat pushes up sunglasses on their face; text reads: I’m ready
Students don’t need to be ready for inclusion; the school and classroom should be ready to accept any student in their community.
…the only time students with disabilities are visible in your school is during Exceptional Children’s Week.
[GIF] text reads: inclusion – supporting and embracing diversity in a way that clearly shows all individuals are valued, recognized, and accepted for who they truly are.
When students with disabilities are consistently visible in the school community, it shows that they are valued and respected as individuals. Instead of a week where students with disabilities are celebrated, why not form an inclusion task force where families and educators come together to review practices of school districts that are already implementing inclusive education? What are some ways that your school community can move inclusive education forward beyond awareness weeks?
…the students that are included are working on something completely separate from the class.
[GIF] two men; one saying “it’s exactly the same thing!” and the other says “no it’s totally different!”
In inclusive schools, all students in the same classroom are working on the same curriculum, even if it is adapted for some students to access it. Another aspect of this is the student’s location in the classroom. Are the students who need more support only sitting in one area of the room or spread out among the seats in the class?
…the sensory room is only for students with disabilities and not all students who need it.
[GIF] panning of a sensory room with lights, beanbag chairs, and other sensory-friendly equipment; text reads: sensory room
It is a great idea to offer sensory supports to students, but only if it’s available to all students. Having a room that all students would benefit from but blocking access to it is another kind of exclusion.
…the schedule for special education is the lowest priority.
[GIF] a women saying “we just have a really, really busy schedule”
A school schedule is the heartbeat of an educational community, and students with IEPs are typically the most challenging to schedule support for. Creating a master schedule is an intricate endeavor, and if students with disabilities are not scheduled for first, they will often be left out. Instead, create a schedule that promotes inclusive practices that consider natural proportions and time for authentic collaboration between general and special education teachers.
Want more information on how to create an inclusive school community? Learn how we can help at www.mcie.org.
Tim Villegas is the Director of Communications for MCIE, Editor-in-Chief of Think Inclusive, and the host of the Think Inclusive Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TheRealTimVegas.