Sides on Inclusion
By Marcie Roth, The Ragged Edge, September 2003
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I have been
fighting for children with disabilities to be able to receive a
free appropriate public education since before PL 94-142 -- now
called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA
-- was passed, back in 1975. I have represented hundreds of
families as they fought to get their children that free
appropriate public education in their neighborhood school, in
the classroom the child would have attended if they didn't have
I have been active in the leadership of national organizations
fighting for inclusion. I've provided training and technical
assistance to states, communities, school districts and schools
on exactly how to
include students with disabilities in general ed.
Funded by U. S. and the state department of education, I spent
three years in classrooms across my state, showing school teams
how to include students I've been widely published on the topic
of inclusion, and have developed a number of tools that are in
use today in general ed classrooms. I can honestly say I've
never met a child who can't successfully be included, under the
"right" circumstances, no matter
Yet last spring I put my 11-year-old son Dustin on a short bus
and sent him to a segregated school in another county at a cost
of $50,000-plus per year to the taxpayers of my community.
Shocking? You can only imagine.
I have been battling with our school system for four years to
get Dustin the educational supports and services he needs -- and
is legally entitled to -- without success. Despite intervention
from the Maryland State Department of Education, the U. S.
Department of Education, Congress, the White House,and even a
superbly honest article by reporter Jay Mathews that ran in the
Feb. 6 Washington Post, Dustin's Individualized Education Plan
-- his "IEP" -- was never implemented. Not for one day.
This is not just my view of things, but the actual "Findings"
from the Maryland State Department of Education. (I have four
such "Letters of Findings.") No behavior support plan, no
keyboarding, no extra set of books for home, inadequate testing,
outright lies. And then there was the abuse, also honestly
portrayed in the Washington Post.
Despite it all, rather than implement Dustin's IEP, as required
by law, my school system decided they "couldn't" serve him. They
wanted him placed in a segregated school, in another county.
I was fortunate, though. Because of our high profile (and the
Washington Post article), I was able to reject the hellholes
they tried to send Dustin to (where 4-point restraint and
timeout rooms are still in use), and managed to get him into a
truly wonderful school, as segregated schools go.
In less than two weeks, my previously devastated child began to
blossom. I have never seen him as proud as he was when he signed
his name to a gift for his grandparents. He looked at me,
beaming, and said "Look what the OT taught me to do!" Dustin was
supposed to have received occupational therapy services as far
back as 1998, but it took until now for it to actually happen.
I bet you're wondering why I didn't take legal action to force
implementation of the IEP. I tried. I did as much as I could. A
few wonderful people stepped up to help me, but I was unable to
afford the legal battle I needed to fight, and I was well aware
that even with adequate resources to spend on a lawsuit ($50,000
or more), I was likely to lose anyway. There are very few legal
resources for people like me. Just last year, I spent $8,000 out
of pocket, paying expenses for professional experts to attend
meetings -- professionals I would have needed to use as expert
witnesses in a hearing had I pursued a lawsuit.
This was in addition to the $14,000 I spent out of pocket on
copays for healthcare, after my really decent health insurance
paid its portion.
While I was struggling to pay experts to attend meeting after
meeting, as I fought for my child's right to an education, my
school system was paying lawyers $650 an hour or more to fight
parents like me. Where did they get that money to spend?
Taxpayer dollars, of course! they used my taxpayer dollars --
yours, too -- against my child.
Dustin's neighborhood school should be able to include him. But
they have proven that they have neither the will nor the way to
do it. I am a staunch inclusionist who now says: you're wasting
your breath on that argument.
My new friends -- parents of kids in segregated schools -- will
fight to the death to keep these segregated schools -- until we
can be guaranteed that "inclusion" will not hurt our children.
I am far more aware than most that it really is possible to get
inclusion right. I'm also far more aware than most of just how
wrong "inclusion" is when it's not right.
My child will no longer pay a price for my ideology. He's paying
a different price right now -- the price of being segregated
from his nondisabled peers. I get to live with the guilt of
allowing this. Supporting it, even.
If you want to be part of the solution, don't take sides on
inclusion. Put your energy toward demanding full implementation
and enforcement of IDEA. Until our children are assured that the
law will really be implemented and enforced, the rest of the
debate is irrelevant.
Marcie Roth is executive director of the National Spinal Cord
Injury Association and a longtime national disability rights
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