However, inclusion became a true priority in education with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 and reauthorization as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004. These polices emphasized the need to provide students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum in addition to access to the general education settings (Browder et al., 2007). While IDEIA outlines policies on inclusion for students with disabilities, the term inclusion is not actually included in this federal policy (Winzer, 2009).
For more information on the history of inclusion, visitWrightsLaw.com.
Interpretations of The Law IDEA does not require schools to include students with disabilities in general education settings. Instead it outlines that students with disabilities should be educated in the most appropriate least restrictive environment (IDEA, 2004). Specifically, the law states, “Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (IDEA, 2004, sec. 300.114).
The law presumes that all students who qualify for special education services will be educated alongside their same-age peers in general education settings unless the Individual Education Plan (IEP) team determines that a student’s needs cannot be met in that setting. However, IDEA does not provide guidance on how the team should makes these decisions related to inclusion.
IEP Team Decisions Matter IDEA requires members of the IEP team make educational placement decisions using student data and the individual student’s educational needs. Team members typically include the student if appropriate, the special education case manager, general education teachers, parents, related service providers, and an administrator. Federal law requires that educational services include a continuum of special education placement options.
These placements range from the most restrictive and segregated educational settings such as home or hospital instructional programs and residential programs, to the least restrictive educational setting of the general education classroom. If a student is not placed fully in the general education setting, the team must explain why the student is not participating in that context. IDEA also stipulates that while access to general education content is necessary, mastery or grade-level performance of that curriculum does not determine a student’s educational placement.