To the editors:
"Out of Exile and Into Oblivion?" by Robert McClory (July 16) was a perceptive, in-depth article on a national movement which is having a strong impact on children with disabilities--the movement to include them with their nondisabled peers in education and other areas of their daily lives.
Although the statements which are quoted in the article under my name are generally accurate--I was disappointed that hardly any of the statements which I made in support of inclusion during our long interview appeared in the article. The one-sided picture which was drawn from my statements is thus providing an erroneous impression that I, personally, and the organization I represent, the Family Resource Center on Disabilities (FRCD), are opposed to inclusion and the placement of children with disabilities with their nondisabled peers in regular classes.
The facts are quite different. FRCD supports the placement of children with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment, as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law which defines the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and sets specific guidelines on how LRE will be accomplished.
As the article stated, IDEA states specifically that students with disabilities must be evaluated, and placement decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, based on the individual needs of each child--with a continuum of alternative placements available. IDEA also requires parental participation in the decision-making process through the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each child.
An individualized approach to services for students with disabilities, the provision of services in the least restrictive environment, parental participation, and the right to a due process hearing to resolve disputes--these constitute the major components of IDEA. The word "inclusion" does not appear in the law--but students can be "included" with nondisabled students in regular classrooms through the LRE provisions of the law.
However, many supporters of "inclusion" are promoting placement decisions on a blanket basis with inclusion for all, instead of on a case-by-case basis as required by law. When the word "all" is used in statements (as in "all children should be in inclusive programs"), such statements contradict the IDEA mandate of individualized programming, with a full continuum of alternative placements.
As attorney Matt Cohen pointed out in the article, inclusive education, when implemented appropriately with full supplementary aids and support, is likely to cost more than special-education services provided in separate settings. For this reason, we have serious concerns about the recommendation of many inclusion supporters that separate funding for special-education services be eliminated in favor of a general education fund which blends all education program funds now kept separately, with specific accountability for expenditures.
In a general fund there is likely to be less accountability for specific programs and there is always the temptation to eliminate special services to meet general education needs--as has occurred many times in Chicago and elsewhere. Moreover, the clout that parents always had to force schools to be accountable (the removal of federal funds when legally required services are not provided) is diminished when special education dollars are blended with general education dollars.
I hope these comments will clarify our position--and will help people understand that we support the inclusion of children with disabilities--but that we are also very aware of pitfalls which are likely to put their services at risk.
Charlotte Des Jardins
Family Resource Center on Disabilities