By Chris Shank, Managing Attorney, Disability Rights Oregon
Our schools should create a sense of community in which everyone belongs, is accepted, and supported. Instead, Oregon schools are one of the first places that children with disabilities experience segregation and inadequate supports.
When children experiencing a disability go to kindergarten for the first time, many are put into self-contained classrooms – smaller classrooms where they are segregated from their classmates and denied access to the full learning environment other students enjoy.
This is true despite the fact that studies have consistently shown that all students achieve better outcomes when students with disabilities are educated in the general education classroom.
Because we know students learn best in general education classes, schools are expected to place three-quarters of students enrolled in special education programs in general education classes for 80 percent of their school day. Special education laws also require schools to educate students in the least restrictive environment and to maximize opportunities to interact with their general education peers.
Falling Short of Goals
But many of Oregon school districts failed to meet these benchmarks. Last year, 55 Oregon school districts failed to integrate students in the special education program into mainstream classes for three-quarters of the time. For data on how your child’s school district is faring, check out these Special Education Report Cards created by the Oregon Department of Education for every school district.
Successful inclusion requires a shift in the way we choose to set up our schools. All students must have access to meaningful learning experiences and be challenged to achieve educational outcomes based on high standards. These may seem like lofty goals, but they are ones worth striving toward.
We will continue to make sure that the Oregon Department of Education operates a system in which all students receive an appropriate education.