Last week, along with Parents for Inclusive Education, we co-sponsored an event, “Talking About Inclusive Education.” The turn-out at the event was impressive, with our conference room filled to capacity, and the conversation was especially lively.
We began the evening with a panel of experts: Claire Lowenstein, the Principal of P.S. 333, the Manhattan School for Children; Kim Madden, a parent and an advocate working at Advocates for Children of New York; and Srikala Naraian, an Associate Professor at Teachers College. They spoke with parents, educators, and other stakeholders about a variety of topics related to making inclusion work. Jackie Okin Barney, who coordinates Parents for Inclusive Education, moderated the panel. Some of the more salient points that came up during the discussion included:
- Inclusion should be seen as a civil right. The term goes much deeper than a simple discussion about which classes students are placed in. Inclusion must address the academic, social, and emotional well-being of students.
- Successful inclusion requires resources, support, innovation, cooperation, and collaboration. Inclusion is not a “one size fits all” approach to education; it must be individualized to meet the needs of students, schools, and families. Inclusion is not static; all parties involved need to speak up when something isn’t working so changes can be made where necessary.
- Schools and parents need to stop seeing each other as adversaries in the quest for inclusion. Parents should be informed about their rights and schools need to recognize that parents participate in any number of ways, not just by showing up for parent conferences and answering phone calls. Teachers, administrators, and parents should be active partners.
- Everyone benefits when students receive the assistive technology supports they need to access the curriculum in inclusive settings, and anything that can be done to fast track those supports should be done.
- Inclusion works; it supports academic as well as social-emotional growth for students with disabilities; and individual students can become really successful when given the opportunity.
- The funding formula should be addressed to ensure that it genuinely allows for flexible scheduling of students in a range of settings.
- Principals must be held responsible and accountable for overseeing successful inclusion practices in their schools. Committed, able, and prepared teachers—special education and general education—make a huge difference. Class size is also important.
- To make inclusion really effective, more needs to be done to make inclusive classrooms and buildings physically accessible to students who have mobility needs.
- Increased use of technology to support the needs of students with disabilities is also critical.