Inevitably, when I bring up schools and districts that are including students with extensive support needs in general education classrooms, it is met with statements like:
“well, they don’t have the same kids that we do…”
“our administration would never go for that…”
“our district is too big to implement a change like that…”
For many educators, it is almost impossible to imagine a system where students with autism, intellectual disabilities, and emotional/behavioral disorders are supported side by side their typically developing peers.
But. I’m here to tell you it is happening right now. Whether you believe it or not.
Don’t get me wrong. No place is perfect. And even in the most inclusive school districts that we work with, there is a small percentage of students that the district hasn’t figured out how to support in general education.
There is a difference between saying, this student doesn’t belong in general education and we need some time to figure out support for this student in an alternate placement temporarily.
But temporary is not usually in our vocabulary. We create programs that are based on disability. We have autism programs. We have intellectual disability programs. And emotional/behavioral disorder programs. But how often do students in these programs leave to be educated in the general education setting?
Does your district even keep that data? Probably not, because they are keeping track of the growing numbers of students who “require” these programs. And they are creating even more programs! Even more “special” places.
Just last year I spoke with a Director of Special Education in Georgia (where I live) that said they didn’t believe that there was ANY school district in the country that was supporting students with extensive support needs in general education without the use of “programs.”
Over the years, I’ve been asked, “where are the inclusive school districts?”
And just the other day, I was speaking with Ann Halvorsen (author, retired professor, and Weeklyish reader) about this very question. (Hi Ann!) She said that many years ago Harvard published a list but there hasn’t been any such list since then.
From our work, we know that Cecil County Public Schools in Maryland have been at the top of our list of inclusive school districts. And our partners in Calvert County Public Schools have a committed leadership team working towards a fully inclusive system. We also know that West-Linn Wilsonville School District near Portland, OR has been fully inclusive for nearly a decade (they even wrote a book about it!).
But we know there are others. Maybe you work in a school district that is fully inclusive or is committed to making it a reality.
Here is where I’d love some help. Before we can tell the story of inclusive school districts, we need to know where they are.
So here is your homework assignment.
Email me, message me, send a carrier pigeon, or whatever your preferred method of communication and tell me a school district that you think is inclusive. I’m not going to give any parameters because I want to cast the widest net possible.
And after we get a list, we’ve got something fantastic cooking that I’m not quite ready to tell you about.
When you feel like you are alone in this work, advocating and building truly inclusive schools that really mean all students, know that there are people right now supporting you. We’ve got your back.
Have a great week everyone!
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