Last night, I saw a Facebook post to the group of our local Down syndrome association. The post was “Interesting study!” with a link to an article out of the University of Kansas, one of the preeminent special education programs in the country. The article is titled, “It’s time to end segregation of special education students, professors say…” and discusses recently published research titled “Stars in Alignment,” in the journal of Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities (a publication of TASH).
Lovely thought, wouldn’t you say? Except Dr. Wayne Sailor, one of the professors at the University of Kansas who co-authored this research, published this same idea “to end segregation of special education students” in the book The Comprehensive Local School: Regular Education for All Students with Disabilities (Paul H. Brookes Publishing, 1989) when he was at San Francisco State University. That’s over a quarter of a century ago! The reason I recognized it? Because that book was my “Bible” of sorts that inspired me to spend a large part of my adult life fighting public education (and prevailing) over segregation and discrimination of special education students.
In the foreword of his book published in 1989, Madeleine C. Will, former Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) of the United States Department of Education, well-known national advocate, and parent of a son with Down syndrome, writes:
The provision of the law calling for maximum integration is based on a recognition that separating children with disabilities from their peers, when not required for educational reasons, can impair the quality of the education they receive. Segregation often leads to the isolation of children with special needs. It can limit their opportunities for social interaction and make it more difficult for them to develop appropriate interpersonal skills. The lack of such skills creates obstacles to proper adjustment. Without the experience of living and working in community settings, it becomes more difficult for students with disabilities to live and work in the “real world” after they leave school. In addition, separate placements can stigmatize children with special needs. A sense of being different may cause a child to develop a negative self-image which can prove to be a greater obstacle to living a fulfilling life than any disability or learning problem…
…The Comprehensive Local School: Regular Education for All Students with Disabilities is part of the continuing effort to develop models that will make it possible for all children with disabilities to be educated in regular educational settings.
That we are still discussing this concept of “inclusion” as if it were novel is disturbing and disheartening. And that the United States Department of Education continues to fund redundant research and programs, such as Sailor’s Schoolwide Integrated Framework for Transformation (SWIFT) to the tune of $24.5 million, the “largest grant in KU’s history,” for concepts that have been long-since proven to be educationally beneficial yet not implemented, has got to stop.
Once the 19th Amendment passed, I don’t recall over 25 years later hearing about women showing up at the polls only to be refused a ballot. And I don’t recall over 25 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act hearing about signs mysteriously reappearing above water fountains for “White” and “Colored.”
So, who is to blame? The United States Department of Education and their Office for Civil Rights, first and foremost! No matter how you slice it or dice it, segregation and discrimination in special education is a civil rights issue. And, until we see it as such, there will be no concerted effort to end segregation and discrimination for individuals with disabilities so that they, and their families, can move forward permanently. We cannot champion this cause as fractionated groups related to a specific disability, be it autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, hearing impaired, visually impaired, learning disabled. Until we see ourselves as ONE community, speaking for ONE civil right – the right to be counted, the right to be included – nothing will change.