The annual Inclusive Schools Week is Dec. 3-7

By Sheri Willrodt

Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools

Inclusive Schools Week is celebrated annually the first week in December by families, schools and organizations around the world.  Since its inception in 2001, Inclusive Schools Week has celebrated the progress that schools have made in providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preference and other factors.

This week also provides an important opportunity for educators, students, and parents to discuss what else needs to be done in order to ensure that their schools continue to improve their ability to successfully educate all children.

Sheri Willrodt, Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools

For years, it was thought that students with special needs were better served in a learning environment away from their typically-developing peers.  However, as a result of new research and a better understanding of students with special needs, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1973 was amended in 1990 to become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which mandates that public schools educate children with special needs in the “least restrictive environment”.

In general, “least restrictive environment” means that, to the maximum extent possible, children who have different abilities should be educated alongside their general education peers so that all children have access to the same educational opportunities and experiences.

An inclusive education system views all students of various abilities as fully participating members of a community of learners. Inclusive education is based on the premise that all children can and do learn from meaningful, quality curricula.  This means that children of all ability levels are present and included in class activities. Moreover, inclusion involves creating a group of children that is not homogenous.

The children in an inclusive group range in abilities, strengths, and needs.  While all the students in a classroom participate in the same educational activities, accommodations and modifications are made for individual learning needs.

At Austin Public Schools, we know that including people, learning about and from others, and sharing our own experiences is truly important and that while we all have our own unique qualities, we also all share common traits, preferences, and experiences. When we learn about others, we develop new perspectives and understanding.

In that way, we can develop our empathy, which helps us connect with more people in more meaningful ways – and that’s good for everybody.  We look forward to continuing to expand opportunities for all students to participate as we move forward into the future.

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