Mainstreaming: Inclusion in Schools

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Amidst the incessant schoolhouse politics that go on in America's secondary schools today, special needs students sometimes get overlooked by their peers. In many areas, some schools are beginning to "mainstream" students with special needs, meaning these kids will share classroom time with other, non-disabled children. Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., has written an open letter to the chief academic officer of the New York City school district entitled, "Inclusion: The Right Thing for All Students." In her letter Jorgensen states, "It's time to restructure all of our schools to become inclusive of all of our children." Although I recognize that the mainstreaming of special education students can be beneficial in some ways for some students, I cannot accept the blanket statement that it is the right thing for every student, and in every classroom.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law requires public schools to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each special needs child. An IEP specifies in detail what services and accommodations will be provided, the student's current academic performance, and the disability may affect his or her academic performance. The goal is to meet the educational needs of each individual in "the least restrictive environment" possible. The Least Restrictive Environment Test poses two questions:

1. Can the student receive an appropriate education in the general education classroom?
2. If the student must be placed in a more restrictive setting, is the student integrated to the "maximum extent appropriate"?
Jorgensen states, "We shouldn't be striving to educate children in the least restricted environment, but rather in the most inclusive one." I think she is mistaken because she overlooks the individual needs of some students with her one-size-fits-all approach. My friend Mark-Robert has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism....
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