Should students with the most significant cognitive disabilities be educated alongside their typical peers?
Evidence-based research and special needs parents overwhelmingly say YES, they should.
Now the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education is awarding a up to $10 million dollars to an educational agency that promises to deliver inclusive results for these type of students.
This is big news for the inclusive education crowd!
The Department of Education is accepting applications from state and local education agencies, as well as non-profit and for-profit agencies until June 16, 2017.
The hope is this competition will help address problems with continued segregation of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, like Down syndrome.
Here’s what we know: Evidence-based research continues to support and Federal law continues to require INCLUSION. Students with disabilities are supposed to receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Reality is much different:
The majority of American school children with the most significant disabilities (intellectual disabilities, Autism, multiple disabilities, and traumatic brain injury) continue to be segregated in separate classrooms, schools, and out-of-district placements.
Here’s the other problem:
The evidence and tools for inclusion are available, but real-world implementation and support in schools is serious lacking.
I understand this as a former secondary school teacher. My first year teaching in Virginia was in an “inclusive” setting, but I did not receive appropriate support. My students suffered the most from this lack of support.
When I moved to Utah, students with significant disabilities were sent to special schools; no support needed.
The winning educational agency will receive $2 million federal dollars annually for up to 5 years to implement and sustain inclusive practices.
The competition’s media director, Tina Diamond, told me the Office of Special Education doesn’t want to give limitations to the agency such as exactly how many students they must impact. The agency is not limited to a brick-and-mortar building to implement their strategy either.
But there will be performance goals to sustain the funding, and the OSE has these specific 4 goals in mind:
- Increase the amount of time students with significant disabilities are educated in inclusive classrooms.
- Increase education engagement of students with significant disabilities (i.e. academic instruction and extracurricular activities).
- Increase the quality of instruction through interventions and accommodations supported by evidence.
- Supporting districts and education groups in implementing inclusive practices in grade-level academics and extracurricular activities.
The OSE is responsible for funding other inclusive programs like SWIFT Schools (Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation).
Still, Diamond says the OSE continues to see a barrier for inclusion for students with the most significant disabilities.
Diamond says the OSE worked on unveiling this competition for many months, and are excited to finally have it rolled out this year. Applications will be reviewed in August, and a winner is expected to be announced some time in September 2017.
Find out how educational agencies can apply here!