ERIC Identifier: ED473828
Publication Date: 2002-11-00
Author: Bateman, David - Bateman, C. Fred
Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education Arlington VA.
What Does a Principal Need To Know about Inclusion? ERIC
Inclusion is the meaningful participation of students with disabilities in
general education classrooms. To practice inclusion successfully the school
principal and staff must understand the history, terms, and legal requirements
involved as well as have the necessary levels of support and commitment.
HISTORY AND TERMS
The word inclusion is not a precise term,
and it is often confused with similar concepts such as least restrictive
environment (LRE) and mainstreaming. Educating children in the least restrictive
environment has been mandated since the 1970s, when it was a major provision of
the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142). The law states
that: To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities...are
educated with children who are nondisabled; and that special classes, separate
schooling, or other removal of children 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 supplemental aids and services cannot be
achieved satisfactorily (34 C.F.R. Section 300.550).
As practiced in the 1970s and early '80s, mainstreaming was an attempt to
meet the LRE requirement by moving students from separate schools and classes to
regular education classes for part or all of the school day. Often, students
received their academic instruction in special classes and their time with
nondisabled peers was spent in nonacademic activities such as lunch, recess,
physical education, or perhaps art and music.
Regular Education Initiative (REI).
In the mid-80s, the Regular Education Initiative gave more responsibility to
general education teachers and staff in the education of students with
disabilities. The expectation was that the student would receive special
education services, but would still participate in the general education
classroom with the general education teacher assuming responsibility for at
least part of the student's education.
Inclusion implies that students will be taught outside the regular education
classroom only when all available methods have been tried and failed to meet
their needs. If a student is pulled out of the general education classroom for
instruction in another placement, the intent is for the pullout to be temporary
and for the student to be reintegrated into the general education classroom as
soon as possible.
REGULATIONS GOVERNING INCLUSION
The laws and regulations
governing the placement of students with disabilities do not imply that every
student with a disability must be included in the regular classroom all of the
time. Rather, the law requires that a continuum of services (of differing types
and at different levels of inclusivity) will be available for every student, and
emphasizes that the student's individualized educational program (IEP) is to be
based on the student's specific needs. The law also describes how to determine
the appropriate placement for a student. Information governing placement
decisions can be found in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA), 34 C.F.R. Section 300.552.
of alternative placements.
Federal regulations require that a continuum of placements be available and
include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home
instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. Supplementary
services (e.g., resource rooms, itinerant instruction) must be provided in
conjunction with regular class placement. In other words, students with
disabilities must be included in general education settings to the maximum
extent possible, but they do not have to be included when inclusion does not
meet their particular needs.
the appropriate placement for a student.
The IEP Team determines the child's program and the aids and services the
child is to receive. The IEP is the child's individualized program and includes
a description of the steps taken to delineate the child's needs.
Inclusion is preferred because the general education classroom is where other
students of the child's age are located, and students are usually in the same
class as other children they know. Removing students from the general education
classroom creates a stigma. When students leave the general education classroom
to receive support, they are losing valuable instructional time. When inclusion
is successful, all students-those with and without disabilities-benefit.
However, full inclusion is not the best placement for all students. The
general education classroom is typically not individualized. Special education
classrooms are often more structured than general education classrooms, thereby
improving the chances of success for students who need more structure. General
education teachers and staff often are not trained to work with students who
have significant needs, and if appropriate supports are not provided, students
may fall further behind their peers. Finally, not all services can be provided
in general education classrooms.
Court cases have produced guidelines that can be helpful in determining the
best placement for a student. One of these is Oberti v. Board of Education (995
F.2d 1204 [3rd Cir.1993] 19 IDELR 908), which specified three considerations for
determining placement: (1) the steps taken by the school to try to include the
child in the general education classroom; (2) the comparison between the
educational benefit the child would receive in a general education classroom,
including social and communication benefits, and the benefits the child would
receive in a segregated classroom, and (3) possible negative effects inclusion
would have on the other children in the general education class.
PREPARING AND SUPPORTING STAFF
It is up to the principal to
prepare the school and the staff for inclusion and to provide the backing, in
both resources and commitment, to make it succeed. There are specific steps a
principal can take to prepare staff:
Ensure that staff is aware of the legal requirements and terms. Explain
supplementary aids and services.
Make sure that staff and teachers know that most students with disabilities are
already educated in general education classrooms most of the time and are
included in almost all of the noncurricular activities. Point out that the
majority of students with disabilities have mild disabilities.
Reassure teachers that while they will need to make changes in their
instructional methods and materials, support will be provided.
Explain that while many students with disabilities have participated
successfully in unstructured activities, they often do better in structured
Be sure staff understand that decisions made regarding children with
disabilities are individualized decisions. Some students may have needs that
must be addressed outside of the general classroom, but they will be placed in
outside settings only after efforts to meet their needs in the general classroom
with supplementary aids and services have failed.
Explain that large numbers of students with disabilities will not be assigned to
any teacher (e.g., only one or two per class).
Principals need to ensure that students with disabilities are assigned evenly
among classrooms and to provide the time and staff development teachers will
Ongoing time throughout the year is needed for planning, meetings, in-service
training, and conferences. Regularly scheduled meeting times should be built
into the schedule so that teachers can work, plan, and reflect on what has
occurred. Reserved time each day is ideal, but reserved time each week may be
more feasible. The time can be as little as 20 to 30 minutes.
When problems occur, special meetings may be necessary. Allow time and
support for staff to attend those meetings. Do not overburden the same teacher
with potential problems every semester. Plan with teachers who will work with
specific students and discuss how teachers will work together to meet students'
In-service sessions should be planned around what teachers say they need to
learn about students with disabilities. It is best if in-service providers are
able to come back and answer implementation questions within a month or two of
their sessions. If the in-service providers cannot offer the information needed,
bring together teachers and staff to help determine what additional information
is necessary to solve problems. Provide opportunities for teachers and staff to
attend conferences related to students with disabilities.
How can a principal demonstrate commitment to all students in the school?
There are a number of ways, including attending and participating in IEP
meetings, asking how students are doing, providing positive reinforcement for
good work, and providing positive reinforcement when teachers and other staff
are working together to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
Erickson, R. Ysseldyke, J., Thurlow, M. & Elliot, J. (1998). Inclusive assessments and accountability systems. Teaching
Exceptional Children, 31(2), 24-29.
Kerns, J. F., Kleinert, H., Clayton, J. Burdge, M. & Williams, R. (1998).
Principal supports for inclusive assessment. Teaching Exceptional Children,
Oberti v. Board of Education (995 F.2d 1204 [3rd Cir.1993] 19 IDELR 908).
Vaughn, S., Bos, C. S., & Schumm, J. S. (2000). Teaching exceptional,
diverse, and at-risk students in the general education classroom. Boston: Allyn
Walther-Thomas, C., Korinek, L., McLaughlin, V. L., & Williams, B. T.
(2000). Collaboration for inclusive education: Developing successful programs.
Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 34CFR Section 300.550
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 34CFR Section 300.552 (1975).
Excerpted from Bateman, D. & Bateman, C. F. (2001). What does inclusion
mean and what does a principal need to know about it? In A principal's guide to
special education. Available from the Council for Exceptional Children,
Arlington, VA. Order Number P5356, 888.232.7733.