Inclusive Education: When is it the right decision?

In past years, we have heard more and more the term inclusion (or inclusive education) when talking about students in our schools who have special needs. Once labeled as a student in need of special education services, a protocol usually must be followed, a law that mandates that the child’s needs be met.  The school has to have a specific plan to address learning, social and emotional inadequacies for the student. It seems good to have such an approach since it mandates that children get services and that schools and school districts are held responsible to meet those needs.

How do we help the students who fall through the cracks of mainstream education?

Sometimes a student needs more services than inclusion provides.
Sometimes a student needs more services than inclusion provides.

The push for inclusion has recently reached prominence in many states. And there are some really good things about attempting to keep students who are struggling in the mainstream school.  We all want these students to have as normal a school experience as possible and to be able to join their friends. It is true that with other supports like reading specialists, counselors and small class environments, some students can and do succeed in their regular school. When these supports enable students to become successful, the benefit to them and to their family and friends is wonderful.

Since our schools still suffer with depleted finances from the continuing economic crisis, they lack funding for the more extensive services for the special needs students.  So, inclusion by default becomes a way to save money and staff resources. 

But this solution is not necessarily the right one for the student.

Inclusion may prevent students from getting the level of services that they desperately need.  Some students truly need a more intensive program to be able to overcome obstacles they are experiencing in their lives.

Determination should be made according to the child’s needs. They may require a concentrated environment that combines behavior management, clinical support and an academic program that can help them compensate for any learning or cognitive deficiencies, which, in turn, will help them adapt to educational programs required for diplomas and future opportunities for college or employment.

I have seen situations in which students were placed in programs not attuned to the level of support they needed. The result is that these students often become lost in a cycle of failure, blame themselves, or believe they are so inept that they are embarrassed to ask for the help that they really need. These inaccurate beliefs then lead to depression, anxiety disorders, fear, insecurity and many other problems. Further, parents can also be made to feel guilty and disempowered to meet their needs of their own child. This can be devastating. 

Discuss with your children how they feel about their school.

Parents and caregivers of children with special needs really need to evaluate whether their children can function in a regular school with a level of support, or whether they need a specialized program attuned to their children’s specific needs. 

Usually, they can help by describing the impact school is having on them.  The standard tools of grades and comments by teachers can also help.  There are also assessment services within many schools that can test, evaluate and identify what children may need in order to meet their academic requirements.

We can do better.

We have been discussing the students who fall through the cracks of mainstream education and spend the rest of their lives struggling to find success. 

These are the types of students who can cause a host of problems for their family and sometimes their community. This is just not acceptable. We can do better. 

Inclusion may provide an exceptional option. However, sometimes inclusive services are just not enough, and schools cannot possibly meet the needs of all of their students.

I empathize with schools that have had their budgets reduced. We need to advocate for more funding for special needs children and teenagers. But we cannot use inclusion as a scapegoat, a way to save funding, when the needs of the child are greater than can be met in that environment. The right program with the right interventions offered by qualified and caring staff can make a huge difference in the life of a child or teenager.   

I can cite case after case.

I can attest to case after case in the lives of so many of our Lakeside students. I appreciate those districts we serve who are referring these students to our programs. It is a demonstration how they are truly attempting to meet the needs of the students through proactive intervention. 

My experience is that most students really can be successful no matter what their deficits—if they have the right support.

I hope we can be a society that will strive to help our children. It is a healthy and successful way to prevent some of the social and relational costs to our families and communities. I am very concerned these days that so many students are being overlooked by the systems that we have created. 

Yet, I am hopeful that we can move past ideas that will not work to offer our students the level of services that can ensure success rather than continuing cycles of failure. The right help is paramount to our children and their ability to have a meaningful and successful future. There is just no substitute for success.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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