School Beat: Inclusion -- Looking Back and Looking Ahead

  • December 8, 2011

By Katy Franklin
BeyondChron News Web site

In 2011, for the first time ever in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) history, students with “inclusion” designations on their IEPs in transitional grades, (Kindergarten, 6th grade and 9th grade) were allowed to apply to every public school in the district. San Miguel Early Education School (Pre-K) also began to offer full inclusion of children with disabilities this year; Presidio Child Development Center used to be the only fully inclusive Pre-K site available. This civil rights victory for children with disabilities should have been widely celebrated, but the message of hope and progress for school communities was overshadowed by apprehension, reluctance and panic from many school district employees.

This panic was hard to understand-- inclusion was not new to SFUSD, about 33% of school sites included students with disabilities in regular education classrooms prior to this change. In a recent email to me, Ann Halvorsen, a Special Education Professor at CSU East Bay (Hayward), related some of the history of inclusive education in SFUSD:

“Inclusion initiated in 1993 in response to the request of a small group of parents and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) principles. It grew from 50 students in 10 schools to 470 students in 47 schools in 5 years. For many years, SFUSD had the largest proportion of inclusive schools in an urban center in the United States

Sadly, even here, in progressive, diverse San Francisco, full inclusion is still regarded as more of a privilege than a right.

(IDEA), the Federal law which guides special education, mandates that all children have the right to a free, appropriate public education, regardless of disabilities:

“To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities... should be educated with children who are not disabled, and... special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment should occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5)(B)”

Until this year, and despite what the law said, only 45 out of 140 SFUSD schools included children with disabilities in general education classrooms. “Our school does not have an inclusion program,” is the polite way the school administrators put it. To parents seeking an inclusive education for their children, it was the same as being told: “We don’t enroll their kind here.”

We still have a long way to go. Successful inclusion programs involve more than mere physical presence in the classroom. Successful inclusion takes careful attention and commitment to ensure that all children are treated as active members and participants of the school community. It takes strong leadership to bring together teachers, students, parents and administrators, and guide them in the development of a caring community where diversity is the norm.

December 5-9, 2011 – is National Inclusive Schools Week, we hope SFUSD schools will celebrate inclusive practices and honor the commitment teachers, administrators, students, and parents have for making their schools welcoming to all children.

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