Current trends in education show that there are movements towards embracing inclusion of students with differences into general education classrooms, rather than placement into special classrooms. In order to meet the legal requirements of IDEA pertaining to the education of children with disabilities, and, more importantly, being prepared and able to meet the unique needs of these students, teachers must know and understand the law, have understanding about learning differences, and have a plan in place to meet the need of every student to the best of their ability.
To explore the legal requirements that come into play when teaching a classroom that includes students with special needs, and to demonstrate a plan of action, we will use the following scenario. Suppose you are the teacher of an inclusion classroom made up of eighteen students with no diagnosed learning disabilities, two students with learning disabilities, one student who has deficits in writing and reading skills, one who has deficits in math, one student who has an emotional-behavioral disability, one with blindness, two students with ADHD, and one student with Cerebral Palsy.
First, let us take a look at the current legal requirements that may affect the classroom strategy. There was a time in our country’s history that children with learning, physical or intellectual disabilities were viewed in demeaning ways and undervalued by the educational system. However, education was defined as a right and not a privilege by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Brown v. Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education in 1954. This came as a result of the heart cries of parents who saw the injustice of the, then, education system. It was also on the heels of the civil rights movement of the day. In 1975, the U.S. Congress assembled various pieces of state and federal legislation into one comprehensive national law called, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This law made a free public education available to nearly four million school-age children with disabilities. In 1986, this same law was amended to make a free and appropriate public education available to preschool-age students. Later in 1990, Congress renamed The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This name change reflected a new way of thinking about the person first and their disability second; it is referred to as people first language. IDEA required that all children be granted the right to free public education, regardless of their disability, in what is referred to as the zero-exclusion principle. IDEA also mandated that all services needed for a student with special needs to benefit from their educational experience be provided at no charge to the parent. This would included services like transportation, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, social work services, and more (Hardman, M.L., Clifford, D.J., & Egan, M. W., 2008). Before a student can receive these services, however, they must meet two requirements. First, they must be identified as having one of the disability conditions cited in federal law, or a corresponding condition cited in state special education law. These would include intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, visual impairments, serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, multiple disabilities, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities (Hardman, M.L. et. al, 2008). Secondly, they must be evaluated by a team of professionals and parents to determine the need of special services. IDEA further mandates that evaluations must be multidisciplinary and that parents have a right to be involved in the process. Usually, if a child meets both criteria, and...