Special education inclusion has been a hot debate topic for some time now. There are advocates on both sides of this issue, but to understand it, we must first define what inclusion is. This term expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students).
There are also those who believe in full special education inclusion which states that regardless of the disability, students should be in a full time general education classroom and all services should be provided within the general education classroom.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not require inclusion. However, the law does require that children with disabilities must, to the maximum extent appropriate, be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). IDEA considers the general education classroom to be the least restrictive environment. IDEA recognizes that it is not appropriate to place all children in the regular education classroom. Therefore, the law requires school districts to have a “continuum of placements” available, extending from the regular education classroom to residential settings, in order to accommodate the needs of all children with disabilities. Using the continuum concept makes it more likely that each child would be placed appropriately in an environment that is specifically suited to meet his/her needs. The law intends that the degree of “inclusion” be driven by the student’s needs as determined by the IEP.
In developing the Individual Education Program (IEP) for a child with disabilities, the IDEA requires the IEP team to consider placement in the regular education classroom as the starting point in determining the appropriate placement for the child. If the IEP team determines that the “least restrictive environment” appropriate for a particular child is not the regular education classroom for all or part of the IEP, the IEP team must include an explanation in the IEP as to why the regular education classroom is not appropriate.
The purpose of these requirements is to carry out the intent of the IDEA, which is to educate as many students with disabilities as possible in the regular education classroom, while still meeting their unique, individual needs. Robert T. Stafford, the Republican Senator from Vermont and one of the bill’s primary sponsors, has argued that the legislation is essential if we are to allow children with special needs to live ordinary lives (Arnold and Dodge, 1994).