The best definition I’ve ever heard for inclusion is this: everybody everywhere. Inclusion means letting the people with disabilities be where they are, whether that’s right alongside a neighbor without a disability, whether that’s working in a local store, or going to a local school. Inclusion means that everybody gets to be part of our greater community to whatever extent they want.
My daughter’s school district claims to understand this concept. They say that they are incorporating practices of inclusion in their greater plan.
No. They aren’t.
Katie has spent the last several years in what is locally called a cluster program. (I was tempted to use quotes there, but then I’d have to stop and make air quotes at myself, and that probably wouldn’t be good.) The cluster program could also be called a special ed room, or a self contained classroom.
Our school district has somewhere around thirty elementary schools. They have elementary “cluster sites” at three of them. (See, I shouldn’t have done the quotes, now I’m gesturing to myself in front of my computer. Add that to the muttering I’ve been doing lately, and someone is bound to take notice.)
So, despite the fact that we live in a neighborhood with lots of other little kids, and that there is an elementary school two blocks away, I get up at a quarter to six every morning, so that I can get my girl onto a school bus before seven. The bus will go on an hour long route and end up at a “cluster site” (yep, there I go again. Gotta quit that.) that is about two miles away.
About an hour later, I can look out my window and see all of the local children walking down my sidewalk to the elementary school that’s a stone’s throw from my house.
I admit that this isn’t as simple as getting the green light from the school. “Okay, Katie can go to school over here now.” She does have severe disabilities. It isn’t realistic to expect her to sit through fifth grade math, or English, or science. She needs therapies. She needs special equipment. She needs a teacher that can give her individual attention…
Wait. Why can’t she get those things at our local school?
Ah, yes. Money. If the school (ware)houses all the kids with special needs in one place, they only need one room. One teacher. One set of special equipment. One set of specialists.
At this point, Katie has become part of her current school’s community, and it would be a huge jolt to her if we changed the program. It will be changing, though. Because next year, she’ll start middle school. And, while this school district has been bussing her to one edge of the city for her elementary education, they now plan to bus her to another edge of the city for her middle school education. This means that, not only does she not get inclusion into her local neighborhood, next she wont even have the inclusion of the community of children who she has gone to school with for the last five and a half years. Except, of course, those who have also been stuffed into the cluster room.
I have spoken to the school board about this. They nodded politely (well, they weren’t all polite) and basically said they can do whatever they want.
I am honestly tempted to walk away. People who know me well know how extreme that is – I seem to have some sort of biological condition that prevents me from giving up even when it’s clearly the end game. But I am finding myself perusing housing listings in other districts, because right now I am so disgusted with this one.
But, that isn’t serving my community. Inclusion is good for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Unfortunately, an awful lot of people can’t seem to understand that fact.