What is the least restrictive environment for students with special needs? How do we provide full integration for students? Can provide an equitable education for all students? Let’s discuss.
Introduction: Why This is Personal
I am an English teacher by trade. I love reading and I love the smell of books (especially old books). But when I was younger, I also played softball for a year and considered trying out for the tennis team. My mother was/is exceptionally sporty and always wanted my sister and I to be sporty, too. I just wasn’t. I’m not.
I am lucky because my symptoms are mild. I didn’t realize I had a disability when I was younger but there were signs. I’ve sprained my ankle countless times. My legs feel achy when I don’t get enough sleep. I occasionally cut myself without realizing it. It wasn’t until my sister was diagnosed that I realized the random “clumsiness” wasn’t random. It was CMT.
Today, I will explore the idea of full integration in schools. I’m curious to know what you think.
What is Full Integration in Schools?
Full integration is the ideal state of education in which every student, regardless of their abilities, is fully included in the regular education classroom. It is a concept that has been gaining traction in recent years as more and more people recognize the importance of inclusive education for all children and students with disabilities. It is considered full inclusion.
Students with special needs are afforded the same rights as students without special needs. That means children should be placed in an environment that does not inhibit the child’s ability to learn or interact with other children.
The biggest question is, can we actually provide this child an equitable education or is it practically impossible? How does the full inclusion model work?
Blending in as “Normal”
I was the clumsy kid who tripped over her own feet. When I threw the ball it would fall backwards behind me. My personality is also the kind where I don’t feel naturally competitive. I just laughed when I’d run to pick up a ball and suddenly drop it. It infuriated my teammates.
I remember having difficulty with stretching the most. We’d all sit down with rulers and the teacher would measure how far we could reach. I never reached my toes. Sometimes, the teacher would try to push me down to reach a little further but it never happened. As an adult, yoga teachers would always tell me to stretch harder or “lean into it” but I’ve never successfully palmed the floor.
Barriers to Full Integration in Schools
Before we begin, I’d like to preface this part with I don’t think these challenges are insurmountable, only that they currently exist.
1. Lack of Resources
One of the biggest challenges to full integration is the lack of resources and support for students with disabilities. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, only 17% of students with disabilities receive the accommodations and services they need to succeed in school.
Our resource teachers are maxed out. They don’t have the ability to stretch themselves further than they are currently. Just like the teaching profession itself, teachers in specialty fields are hurting the most, like the Special Education teacher.
2. Less Education
This means that many students with disabilities are not getting the support they need to be successful in the regular education classroom. Without adequate support, it can be difficult for students with disabilities to keep up with their peers and fully participate in the general education classroom.
For example, in a class of 28 (which is where I am now), I cannot tend 4 or 5 Special Education students without support. Of course I scaffold my lessons and provide accommodations but I do not personally think it is enough to say I am providing a free and equitable education to all my students. I cannot because I do not have enough time in 50 minutes to give enough time to all students. I am extremely thankful for my resource teacher because she comes in and helps students with additional support.
3. Lack of Training and Support
Another challenge to full integration of special education services is the lack of training and support for teachers. Many teachers do not feel adequately prepared to work with students with disabilities and may not know how to provide the accommodations and support that these students need. In a survey of general education teachers conducted by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, only 56% reported that they felt well-prepared to teach students with disabilities.
This lack of training can make it difficult for teachers to effectively support students with disabilities in the regular education classroom. I think people have a difficult time understanding the difference between providing supports for students and a reduction of rigor. We do not reduce the difficulty regular classes, we extend the ladder so students may rise to the level of difficulty.
4. Social and Cultural Barriers
In addition to these challenges, there are also social and cultural barriers to full integration. Many people still hold negative attitudes toward people with disabilities, and this can create a hostile and restrictive environment for students with disabilities in the regular education classroom.
According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine negative attitudes toward people with disabilities are widespread and can lead to discrimination and exclusion. These negative attitudes can make it difficult for students with disabilities to feel included in the classroom and can make it challenging for teachers to foster an more inclusive classroom environment.
5. It’s Costly to Implement Full Integration in Schools
Let’s face it, if we really want to have full integration in schools it’s going to be costly. It’s expensive to train professionals when there’s already a teacher shortage. With the state of education under constant attack and general lack of funding, it’s difficult to imagine a time when we will have individualized education program adequate funding and staffing.
Access to Full Integration in Schools
Despite these challenges, there are ways to improve the system and move closer to full integration.
1. Providing Additional Resources and Support for Students
One way to improve the system is to provide more resources and support for students with disabilities. This can include providing accommodations and services for special needs, such as assistive technology, speech and language therapy, and specialized instruction, to help students with disabilities succeed in the regular education classroom.
2. Additional Special Education Teachers
It can also involve providing additional funding to schools to hire more support staff, such as paraprofessionals and special education teachers, to help provide the necessary support to students with disabilities.
3. Training for General Education Teachers
Another way to improve the system is to provide more training and support for teachers. This can involve offering professional development opportunities for teachers to learn how to effectively support students with disabilities in the regular education classroom. It can also involve providing ongoing coaching, instruction and support to help teachers implement the strategies they have learned and improve their practice over time.
4. Addressing Negative Attitudes
Finally, addressing negative attitudes toward people with disabilities can also help improve the system and move closer to full integration. This can involve promoting disability awareness and inclusion in the school community and providing opportunities for students to learn about and interact with people with disabilities. It can also involve working with families and community members to promote positive attitudes and reduce stigma.
Conclusion: Moving Towards Full Integration in Schools
In conclusion, full integration in schools is difficult with the current state of education due to a lack of resources and support for students with disabilities, a lack of training and support for teachers, and social and cultural barriers to full inclusion.
However, by providing more resources and support for students with disabilities, offering more training and support for teachers, and addressing negative attitudes toward people with disabilities, we can work to improve the system and move closer to full integration. Inclusive education is a vital goal that benefits all students, and it is up to us to work together to make it a reality.
If you would like to learn more about how to better provide services to students with learning disabilities or physical disabilities, I found these resources helpful:
What do you think? Do you think we can ever truly provide an equitable education to students with special needs in a general education classroom?