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TASH | Characteristics of Fully Inclusive Schools

Think Inclusive: Season 10 Episode 10

For this episode, Tim speaks with members of the Inclusive Education Community of Practice from TASH, Debbie Taub, Diane Ryndak, and Mary Fisher, about TASH’s position statement on the characteristics of fully inclusive schools.

So just a point of clarification. We recorded this interview earlier this year before the annual conference in Phoenix, the first weekend of December. Tim will give his full recap and reflection of that TASH conference in his audio newsletter, The Weeklyish. Go to to subscribe and get it in your inbox when it drops next week.

Thanks for listening, and if you haven't already, please give us a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Transcript:

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Cover Art Image Description: black background; think inclusive logo in the top left; rainbow-colored waves overlayed with TASH logo; text reads: Characteristics of Fully Inclusive Schools; S10E10; MCIE logo in the bottom right

Mentioned in this episode:


Think Inclusive is written, edited, and sound designed by Tim Villegas and is produced by MCIE.

Original music by Miles Kredich.

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Audio Transcript

Tim Villegas 0:01

If you don't know about TASH, are you even an inclusionist? Hold up. Some of you might be saying, Tim, what in the what is TASH? Okay, here is what you need to know. TASH is a disability rights organization that has been around since 1975 that advocates for human rights and inclusion for people with significant disabilities and support needs, those most vulnerable to segregation, abuse, neglect, and institutionalization. Is this speaking to you? If so, you are going to love this episode.

My name is Tim Villegas from the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. And you are listening to Think Inclusive, a show where with every conversation, we try to build bridges between families, educators, and disability rights advocates to create a shared understanding of inclusive education and what inclusion looks like in the real world. You can learn more about who we are and what we do at For this episode, I speak with members of the Inclusive Education Community of Practice from TASH, Debbie Taub. Diane Ryndak, and Mary Fisher, about TASH's position statement on the characteristics of fully inclusive schools. So just a point of clarification, we recorded this interview earlier this year before the annual conference was held in Phoenix, the first weekend of December. I'm going to give my full recap and reflection of that TASH conference, in my audio newsletter, The Weeklyish, go to to subscribe and get it in your inbox when it drops next week. Thank you so much for listening. And now my interview with Debbie Taub, Diane Ryndak, and Mary Fisher.

Debbie Taub 2:06

Hi, I'm Debbie Taub, I'm on the TASH board. And I also am a technical assistance provider for the TIES Center which is a National Technical Assistance Center that works on building inclusive systems for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

Diane Ryndak 2:22

Hi, I'm Diane Ryndak. I'm at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I am co-chair of the TASH Inclusive Education Community of Practice, a former TASH board member. And I also am affiliated with the TIES National Technical Assistance Center on Inclusive Practices and Policies.

Mary Fisher 2:47

And I am Mary Fisher. I'm at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois. And I am a co-director, a co-director with Diane of the Inclusive Education Community of Practice. And I'm involved in teacher preparation, and have been a member of TASH since I was a master's student in 1977.

Tim Villegas 3:10

Welcome all of you to the Think Inclusive Podcast. I'm so excited to have a conversation with the TASH Inclusive Education Community of Practice. Who would like to explain what the goal of the Community of Practice is?

Who are you pointing to Diane?

Debbie Taub 3:34

She's pointing to someone.

She's pointing to Mary.

Tim Villegas 3:36

[Laughing] Okay.

Mary Fisher 3:38

Well, our goal is that we're one of the groups that are part of TASH, and our goal is to come together as a community across the country. And think about critical pieces around inclusive education. And so we have separate subgroups within our community of practice, formerly a committee in which we focus on policy, one group focuses on research, and another group is focusing on ways to market and or let the world know more about what's happening in terms of inclusive education. And so we've been kind of a group that's focused on families and thinking about stories and how we share stories, or how do we create infographics and also build on the work that groups like TIES has for us already, and the Michigan Storytellers, so finding ways to just say it more often more frequently, that we want to support all students as members of inclusive school communities, in the world of education and in the world.

Tim Villegas 4:43

So I heard three so I heard three subgroups right there I heard policy. I heard, my short term memory,

Mary Fisher 4:53

It's okay, research.

Tim Villegas 4:55

Research, and then storytelling, or marketing, right?

Mary Fisher 5:00

Yeah, how should we call that group we sort of combined two groups, it was infographics and families. And so.

Debbie Taub 5:09

It's really about advocacy and understanding, you know, the lived experiences of families, of advocates of students, and how to help spread that knowledge and that word, because the so many, so many people just don't know, as you know, the research around inclusive practices, there's so much unconscious but bias around people with intellectual disabilities and people with complex disability needs. And really, it's it's getting to that layer to help open the door for inclusive education. That's part of what we're trying to do.

Tim Villegas 5:52

How, how large is the community of practice?

Debbie Taub 5:58

It's a hard question.

Mary Fisher 6:00

We have a significant mailing list. Maybe 60 members on our mailing list, I feel that we have a core group, it's always difficult because we're trying to meet with people across the country and scheduling is difficult. I'd say we have a core group of 20 people who are generally with us and then other people join when they can, and or we try to connect in different ways.

Diane Ryndak 6:24

I think that you're I think you're right, Mary, there's a lot of people who are interested who, who frequently are not able to join the meetings just because of other responsibilities. But what's really interesting is, the whole group really cuts across all these sets of people that that with different interests it's got advocates, it's got parents, it has researchers, it has teacher preparation faculty members, you know, so it's, it's very broad, and trying to think about what do we want to accomplish as a group has been an interesting process with several conversations, which has led us to those three groups that that Mary mentioned before.

Tim Villegas 7:10

So I'm hear. So I'm hearing within the group, you've, you've focused on policy on disseminating research.

Diane Ryndak 7:22

So So I would say that within the group, we identified at least these three areas, with people who were really focused in those areas, and to be productive, and to do as much as we could for TASH and the field. And we really, really thought that it would help us to have some groups that met around specific tasks or specific focus areas. So for example, the research group, one of the things that we're thinking about is, or talking about in that group is not just how do we disseminate research, because that's what the journal for, Research and Practices for Persons with Severe Disabilities. And then and then the other the, the newer one, Inclusive Practices for teachers. So there's, we already have outlets through TASH. So we're really more trying to focus on what research do we need? What is needed by the policy people? What is needed by the administrators? Now what, what do we need in the field to push the agenda or to, or to have data that supports inclusive education overall, for all for all kids, but especially for this population? So I would say that the research group is we're still pretty new. And but one of the first tasks that the whole group did was to come up with this, the position statement with policy recommendations. So that was like the first task of this newly conceived community of practice. And then once that was done, we broke into these three, we're still a whole group, but then we have workgroups are groups right? And in the research workgroup right now is trying to figure out what research do we need to move the field further? And then how do we support that? either individually or as a group? Mary, does that does that? Yeah.

Mary Fisher 9:18

Yeah, I agree. It was all about moving forward. And as a group, what are the ways that we can think about that? productively, right, but

Debbie Taub 9:31

it's just want to throw a plug in there that join TASH and you can join the Inclusive Education Community of Practice, because we welcome everyone and that's one of the best things I think about it is that we are getting perspectives from family members, from advocates, from teachers, from administrators, from researchers, and it's really looking at what's happening in the field right now. And how do we move that in the direction we need to move it? So come join TASH.

Tim Villegas 9:59

Absolutely. Please join TASH, please come to the conference. It's going to be in Arizona next year. And it's going to be in person.

Diane Ryndak 10:12

Right. That's very exciting.

Tim Villegas 10:14

Right? Debbie, you mentioned something. You were talking about having all of these different perspectives. And I'm wondering if you see any trends at this point, with all of the people that are in the community of practice? You have, you know, from all around the country, are there any hopeful trends? You know, with Inclusive Education moving forward?

Debbie Taub 10:51

I mean, I think Diane and Mary can answer this, too, but I think absolutely, I think we're seeing a real push to move from including one student at a time to looking systemically at how do we shift the entire culture of the education system, at the school at the district at the state and at the federal level, as opposed to we have this one parent who's working really hard to try to get their kid included. And so what are we going to do to fix that for them? But rather, what do we need to do to really clear the field so that all kids can be included? I think that's really helpful. Certainly, there's been a lot of finances put forward towards this. And several states, California is really focusing on this, Washington's really focusing on this, and putting the finances behind that. Additionally, you know, Maryland has, and Washington have really stepped up and looked at their policies and practices. So I'd say that those are all really positive pieces. Mary, Diane, what else do you want to add to that?

Diane Ryndak 12:00

I think that's that's an important point that, especially with the research group, I've been just going to go back back to that workgroup a little bit. Because we're trying to think about how do we get past the one student at a time to one school at a time knowing that once the principal leaves the school is going to go back to do what they were doing before, we've got 35 years of history telling us that that's what happens. So we've got to figure out a way to break that cycle, and look at systemic change. And not just systemic within a school or within a district, but in the state the policies and procedures that that impact that as well as the federal policies and procedures. And that's where the the policy workgroup is, I think we're still trying to figure out what is that and, and, and what, what is needed in order to help impact the next set of or the next generation of policies and procedures federally as well as at state levels. Mary is that fair?

Mary Fisher 13:03

Yes. And I think just thinking from the families and group and infographics group that combined now kind of group, that we have some people who have been parents for a long time, and some new parents. And since some newer members of the group and people, I think, feel that frustration that we we know a lot. And yet not enough people know that we know a lot. Right? And so how do we help? How do we share more and more and more and more stories? So we have facts to support us. And that, you know, just how do we create a better understanding, right? At all levels.

Debbie Taub 13:50

And I think, you know, I'll say, I've been on the researcher, the teacher side for a long time and the past 12 years now I'm on the parents side. And then I have two kids who are on the spectrum and shifting from being the special ed teacher at the IEP table, to being the parent at the IEP table was a huge awakening to me of kind of some of the barriers that I thought we were done with like, I was like, Oh, well, we all know this. Now, we're good. And I sat in my daughter's IEP team and listen to them, tell me well, you know, I don't really have time to do push-in into her class. So what we're going to do is have her come to my room. And she'll do that for an hour to work on reading and writing. And I said, well, you've just told me that the second grader has scored at a high school level for reading. Why would I ever put her in your reading class? Like, what's the point of that? Well, that's when we have time. And that's when we really work on reading and writing together. And, you know, as a parent, there was this moment where I thought maybe that is what's for the best. Like maybe that is what I'm supposed to do. I'm you know, these are educators and I know that they have my child's best interest at heart. But then as, as a researcher as a teacher's teacher prep, like I thought to myself, Oh, no, they just don't have the right information. You know, and that's a hard position to be in. Because I'm lucky enough that I have all those years of experience. I have other people I can call on the field. And I'll tell you, like I called Diane, I called Louise Jackson. I was like, Listen, this is what they're telling me about my kid, tell me I'm right, like tell me that I'm doing the right thing here. And they're both like, yes, absolutely. But sitting in that IEP meeting is really unnerving. And it's, it's hard. And I don't think I'd realized as a teacher, how difficult it was. So using those kinds of experiences to I think, are really important, because parents want what's best for their kids, but parents are dealing with getting their kids on the bus and taking care of the sick kids and going to the doctor's appointments, and, you know, homeschool and COVID. You know, PE, you know, going after school and activities, all those other things. They don't have time to be the researchers, they don't have time to be the ones who are looking and saying, Okay, what is really the best here, but they're put into that position. And so if we as a community of practice, can put that information out there in easier to digest easy to access ways. It's just better for them, and it's better for students, and it's better for the system to do it that way. So I think that's really been an interesting for me, and interesting perspective shifting, you know, as part of my work as part of the TASH membership as part of that inclusive education, community practice. shifting my perspective, some has been very eye opening and very important. And a little disheartening.

Tim Villegas 16:49

I think a lot of people will find that very relatable. Because I mean, I that's a that's a common comment that I get via email, or social media message is, I know, the right thing to do. I know. You know, I'm a teacher, like you said, I'm a teacher. And they're, they want to do this to for my child, and I know what's wrong. But I just need someone to tell me that I'm right. And I'm not. I'm not thinking about this the wrong way.

Debbie Taub 17:33

Yeah, I actually in in our spare time, I think one of the things that we could work on is kind of a list of typically heard statements during IEP meetings, and the the research or the, you know, dear colleague letters or, or whatever other resources out there to help address those because, you know, that was another issue I had, I had a teacher telling me I couldn't go visit the special ed classroom, they wanted to put my daughter into, because it was a FERPA violation. And I was like, let me call you right back. And like, I immediately went online, I was like, I know, there's a Dear Colleague letter out there that says that that is absolutely not the truth. But in the moment, I would not have trusted myself to say, oh, no, that's ridiculous. Right?

Diane Ryndak 18:22

I want to echo what you're saying about, you're getting the information to parents and having them feel comfortable with it. I just got off a call cold call from a school district, a new person who just left the classroom and is within the department, the District Department of Special Ed now and has reached her own conclusions about we need to have these kids included in general education classes. And she's trying to figure out, what do we have out there that I can use to help convince teachers and help convince parents and help convince the director of special education. And I'm going through the Ty's website and thinking about, you know, all these the pieces of research that we've had, but but having a conversation with her about the different types of special education teachers who are in self contained settings, and what does this type of teacher need to help them understand and to question what they're doing and be okay with that. But to come back to what's important for the kid, and it really made me think about what kind of resources we need to have that are user friendly, and accessible and out there. So I'm not certain we have that yet in a in a very user friendly way, whether it's for parents or for systems that want to change.

Debbie Taub 19:48

And I think the TASH policy statement on policy recommendations for inclusive education was kind of our first step to trying to pull together all those things that we knew and all those things that we know have to happen. And then from there, TASH as a as an organization can use that to advocate and to identify coalitions that align with those goals. But as a community of practice, we can then take some of that information and say, Okay, so these are the things we need know need to change, how do we build those resources? How do we support that work? How do we help teachers do this? How do we help administrators? How do we help families to really address those issues? And what does it mean to be a reciprocal in a reciprocal social relationship, but what it means is you have friends and, and they aren't just there to help you. But that you're seen as a member, a true member of that community, and that everybody in that community sees you as adding something not just as an exercise in empathy, right? Like, I want my my typical kid to learn how to be empathetic, so I'm gonna let them hang out with this other kid. That's not what, what anybody, nobody wants to be the object of pity, as part of their social relationships, that's just not what anybody wants. So how do we build those truly? sort of looking for balanced relationships?

Tim Villegas 21:17

When you look at the policy statement? What, what are some key points for families and educators to focus on? Because it's, it's a big statement? Right? There's a lot in there. So if you have if you have an educator or a family member, that is just getting their feet wet, and understanding what is in this, where would you point in the statement?

Debbie Taub 21:51

That's a great question. I think for somebody who's just getting started, I'd really start at those first points of presuming competence, and having, having and seeing high expectations. What does that look like? And looking at some of the resources that really show the difference between? Oh, yeah, we expect all kids to learn versus this kid is really going to be part of the community after they graduate from high school. That's our goal. So knowing what's out there in terms of Think College, knowing what's out there in terms of internships, or job training, all kinds of other things. I think that's where I start with just the people who are just getting their feet wet, just because I think you need to know the vision before you can get down to the work. But Mary and Diane might have different answers to I mean,

Mary Fisher 22:45

I like that idea of starting meeting people, right? People have exited a fully inclusive program, who are those people and their advice, in terms of where to begin? That would be good. But I think too, in terms of the statement, Oh, I like that, because it's high expectations is the first thing is we look at characteristics of a fully inclusive school. And I think, if someone did read the entire statement, and it's exciting, and it's also so big, so even thinking if I moved into a district that seemed not inclusive or not welcoming, as a teacher, I'm thinking now as a teacher, that I would want to look maybe just at that first list of words, the characteristic of an inclusive school and then chooses the one thing where I think are my district might make some kind of movement or change. And it might be through some of my colleagues that I just want them to begin thinking about what does high expectations mean? And how can my administrative team help me? Help others see what it means to hold high expectations? And maybe that means taking a trip to another school district, somehow close? or visiting, you know, via zoom with some teachers who have another way of approaching instruction, right, or thinking about this whole idea? What is a community and what a classroom learning community looks like? What it includes all of the students? So yeah, so but I do I mean, I think the bullets gives people an idea, here's an idea, but you don't have to do everything at once you can begin with just one or two bullets.

Diane Ryndak 24:23

So I agree with both Debbie and Mary, obviously, because we're working together on this. I really liked the idea of starting with the end in mind. You know, what is why do we even provide education for any kid? And what does that mean for your purpose of education for for individuals who have extensive support needs, what does that look like? And if we want adults with disabilities to be in society with adults who don't have disabilities, it's like how do we, how do we get to that point, and in talking with people who have gone through this system, either in segregated settings or in inclusive settings, you know, looking at what have been the outcomes of educational services for this population and, and thinking about what we really want that to look like. And then backing up to, if we're going to do that we need to have A through F. We need to presume competence, we need to think about being valued and contributing members of the society and that that society, for kindergartener is kindergarten, the society or the the community for fifth graders is fifth grade, and their family and what's outside of school? How can we take take students who have extensive support needs, teach them to function someplace else? And then say, we're going to insert them back into the society we want them to be in to begin with? We know that doesn't work. It also isn't logical. Pick when you think about, you know, what are we really doing here? So we know it doesn't work, the data does says it doesn't work. We know that if we want kids to be engaged with kids, they've got to be with kids, you can't be engaged with kids if you're not not with them. So looking at A through F, up at the beginning of it under the statement of purpose, to me is where I'm where I would start. And I would just stop there, because that really has to set the vision of what you think educational services should look like, from early intervention through age 21. What does that need to look like in order to get to the outcomes th