LETTER: A place for every kid — together, not separated
Published 11:30 am Thursday, August 10, 2023
The TCSS welcome letter thanked teachers for making schools, “A Place for Every Kid.” The letter grounded this work in values of connection, equity, achievement, resilience, integrity, and compassion. While this is honorable, finding a place for students who do not present as normal can result in them being removed from the general classroom and segregated. Research on these segregated environments continues to show that separate is not equal. A 2018 NCD report entitled The Segregation of Students with Disabilities noted, “Nationally, students with disabilities, in particular students of color and students in urban settings, as well as students with specific disability labels (such as autism or intellectual disability), continue to be removed from general education, instructional, and social opportunities and to be segregated disproportionately when compared to White students who live in suburban and rural areas and those who have less intensive academic support needs” (p.9).
One recommendation was to “strengthen expectations for full participation of students with disabilities in general education settings and activities with peers without disabilities” (p.45).
Why should students experiencing disability be included with their general ed peers? Not only does inclusion improve students experiencing disabilities’ academic skills, but it also increased “engagement, improved communication, improved expressive language and literacy skills, more satisfying and diverse friendships, higher levels of social engagement with peers without disabilities, less disruptive behavior, and more social competence” (p.38). For general ed kids, the report showed that inclusion also improves both their academic skills and their interpersonal skills.
Some might argue those with severe disabilities need self-contained classrooms for extra help. However, the report emphasized that inclusion improved their academic skills too.
Creating inclusive school systems goes beyond placing students experiencing disability back into general education classrooms.
This could result in them being segregated inside the general ed classroom, for example, seated away from peers or only interacting with a paraprofessional. Inclusive education means everyone at TCSS develops scaffolded supports to ensure students of all abilities succeed. It means empowering schools to create flexible environments so everyone develops deep relationships. Inclusive systems are built on values of interdependence instead of independence and diversity instead of normalcy. This year, as TCSS works to find “a place for every student”, may that work place students back together.