The pandemic has given us all a taste of forced isolation. We’ve seen how it can leave individuals feeling lonely, scared and depressed.

Imagine if that was your permanent experience.

For many students with disabilities, isolation is the standard practice, as they are routinely educated in settings away from their nondisabled peers with little regard for the detrimental outcomes.

According to a 2020 Policy Analysis for California Education report, California has one of the lowest rates of inclusion of students with disabilities in the U.S., and students with disabilities are routinely placed in segregated classrooms and schools. To some degree, this is rooted in a preparation system that separates students training to be general education teachers and special education teachers into silos at the university. As a result, attitudes about inclusion are rarely challenged, and candidates pursuing a teaching credential aren’t provided with the knowledge and skills they need to effectively work with students with disabilities. However, it is also because separate classrooms in California’s K-12 schools have been the way students with disabilities have always been served with few incentives to change.

To be sure, inclusion can be difficult at times if we don’t give children and teachers the support they need to succeed, but investing in our students and including them with their nondisabled peers can significantly reduce long-term costs to society brought on by keeping students with disabilities in segregated settings. Here are some steps we can take to advance the inclusion of California’s students with disabilities:

  1. Require districts to assign students with disabilities to a general education classroom roster so that each child is seen as a general education student first.
  2. Provide financial incentives in the state funding model for districts to meaningfully increase the percentage of students included in general education classrooms for 80% of the day.
  3. Incentivize districts to use a portion of the funds earmarked for improving outcomes for students with disabilities on professional development for teachers and administrators to support the inclusion of students with disabilities.
  4. Require teacher preparation programs to provide more substantive coursework on working with students with disabilities in inclusive settings to all teacher candidates.

Read the full article about students with disabilities by Lisa Simpson at EdSource.