Parent Concerned about "Inclusive" Classroom

Question: My daughter's third-grade class is an "inclusive" classroom of 22 students. The special-education students include: one 11-year-old child with fetal alcohol syndrome, one child with Down syndrome, one juvenile diabetic and two other learning-disabled children. The teacher has a paraeducator who is in the classroom full time.

I know my daughter is learning very valuable life lessons; however, at what price to her education? I believe that the teacher, even with help, is overwhelmed. What are your thoughts on inclusion? - Worried

Answer: The reason your daughter has so many children with disabilities in her classroom is because Congress has declared through legislation that every child with a disability has the right to an education in a setting that is most appropriate for that child. This setting has been defined as the one with the least restrictive environment, which means being educated with nondisabled peers to the greatest extent possible.

Inclusion can be wildly successful, a disaster, or somewhere in between. It works best when the teacher receives training, works closely with special-education teachers, has adequate support services and well-trained classroom aides, and supports inclusion. Plus, the children with disabilities need to be ones who can truly benefit from being in a regular classroom.

Educators hold divergent views on inclusion. Some believe that every disabled child should be educated in general-education classrooms and that special education should be abolished because it is both academically and fiscally inefficient. On the other hand, there are many educators who believe that inclusion has been pushed too far. They feel that inclusion does not provide many special-needs children with an education equivalent to what they would receive in a classroom designed specifically for them.

Research shows both pluses and minuses with inclusion. In general, disabled children benefit academically, socially and psychologically from inclusion. In addition, their classmates show a greater understanding and appreciation of individual differences. Nevertheless, inclusion can be pushed to such extremes that it deprives all the students of the teaching needed for them to reach their highest potential, and it can greatly stress the teachers.