Let's Stop Pretending That We Can't Do Better Than Segregated Special Education Classrooms.

The burden to make inclusive schools should be on state and district administrators, not teachers and families.

I’ll admit I am fortunate to have a little bit of perspective.

For years, I tried to reconcile working and supporting segregated special education classrooms. Thirteen years in the classroom and three years as a district-level support specialist to be exact.

And for all the talk of me being an inclusionist, there is a certain amount of shame that I carry because it took so long for me to exit a system that promotes the segregation of students with disabilities (especially those with significant disabilities).

Now before y’all get defensive, allow me to explain my thinking.

I don’t fault any educator or family for choosing to stay in a segregated setting because there are no other options.

Take for instance my story. Since I became a teacher, I wanted to work with students with the most significant disabilities. Where are the vast majority of students with this learning profile? They are in segregated special education classrooms. So in order for me to work in more inclusive settings, I would have to leave students that I loved to be around.

Or using another (though hypothetical) example: a family who believes wholeheartedly in inclusive schools, but the amount of work that it would take to change their neighborhood school culture and practices seems insurmountable, so they ostensibly give up and enroll the student in a private school or settle for a self-contained classroom.

A Failure of Educational Leadership

These aren’t examples of the educational system working. They are representative of what many educators and families go through, and to put a finer point on it, they show a failure of educational leadership.

I open up about this on the latest episode of The Think Inclusive Podcast, “Why I Call Myself An Inclusionist.”

Educational research that has been around for decades has shown that inclusive education benefits students with and without disabilities. So why aren’t we doing it?

It was easy to try to rationalize why things were not changing fast enough when I worked in a system that wasn’t inclusive. But now that I am out, and working and talking with educators in school districts that are implementing inclusion the way that it was intended, there is simply no excuse for me not to state the obvious.

Let’s stop pretending that segregated special education classrooms are the best we can do.

I get that some may not be able to wrap their head around what this looks like. But fortunately, there are some excellent examples. See 5 Videos That Will Change Your Mind About Inclusive Education (thinkinclusive.us) All it takes is for a state or district administrator to investigate it for themselves.

What is even more frustrating is that educational frameworks like Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, Universal Design for Learning, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Response to Intervention all work in tandem with an inclusive system. Meaning if you are actually implementing tiered interventions and instruction, you don’t have to have segregated special education classrooms!

Skeptic: But how do you know that, Tim?

Me: Because I see examples of it with the school districts that MCIE is working with. I hear about it with the people I interview for the podcast. And there is documented evidence in the research.

If you don’t believe me, look for yourself. Or email me and we can set up a time to talk.

I empathize with people who feel powerless. Like there is nothing we can do to change the system. But I won’t pretend that there isn’t a better way to educate all students and that we haven’t known about it for a long time.

One last thought. When you sit in Individualized Education Program meetings, and the team gets to the placement discussion, have a robust discussion about how supplementary aids and services can be provided in a general education classroom setting. Remind everyone that special education is a service, not a place. Don’t let a team get away with acting like a segregated self-contained special education classroom is a forgone conclusion. And if you disagree with the team (whether you are a family member or educator), make sure it is recorded in the minutes.



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The Case for Inclusive Education: Sabrina’s Story

As Sabrina’s general education teacher, Nancy Preto, talked with Nelia and began to prepare for Sabrina’s inclusion, she realized that a traditional whole-class instructional approach would not work. So she decided to create activity stations and focus on small-group instruction. During Sabrina’s first week, it was clear how these stations provided Nancy with opportunities for accommodations and modifications.


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