Inclusion Initiative: Schools Strive To Integrate Special-Ed Students

By Neil Gonzales in the, Stockton, California
His Junior ROTC uniform and all that goes with it give Milas Thompson
an extra sense of confidence and belonging.

“When I’m in uniform, I feel like I’m a regular person,” said Thompson, 16, who lives with a learning disability.

As much as reading and writing frustrate him, ROTC offers a chance for
him to enjoy something and excel at Manteca’s East Union High School.
The first-year cadet is earning an A-minus. “It’s fun and interesting,” he said. “It’s a new challenge. Each day we do something different.”

Reserve Officers Training Corps is one of the regular classes Milas is
taking this year. That’s in addition to his special-education courses in
language arts and world history.

His 17-year-old sister, Adel’a, takes a similar mix of regular and
special-education subjects at East Union.

That combination in their schooling is a key requirement of the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The 1975 federal law seeks to
integrate special-needs children academically and socially with the
general student population.

Meeting the provisions of IDEA remains a constant struggle for
schools nationwide, though. They also battle with concerns that there is a racial
imbalance in special-eduction programs.

“Many children are being included in general-education events,” said
Ann Cirimele, executive director of the Family Resource Network, which
serves special-needs students and their families in San Joaquin and
surrounding counties. “But we still have a long way to go.”

Still progressing

By 1999, nearly half of special-education students nationwide spent
more than 80 percent of their school day in regular classes, compared with
25 percent in the mid-1980s, a U.S. Department of Education annual report
to Congress in May showed.

While that’s an improvement, there is still progress to be made.
The 1997 update to IDEA and a report by the President’s Commission
on Excellence in Special Education this year both urge the need for disabled
students to be even more involved and progress in a regular curriculum.

Earlier this year, Los Angeles Unified School District launched a
dramatic overhaul of its special-education services as a result of a 1996
settlement of a federal lawsuit.

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