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Reporting on the state of education in your community and across the country.

Ohio Students With Disabilities Still Segregated From Peers, Study Finds

(Ashton Marra/ideastream)

Federal law requires students with disabilities spend as much time as possible in general education classrooms, but a study from Ohio State University has found that’s not happening in Ohio, or in the rest of the country.

The 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires students with disabilities be placed in classrooms with their nondisabled peers “to the maximum extent appropriate.”

It also requires the amount of time those students spend in various settings be reported to the federal government.

That data is what Matt Brock with Ohio State University reviewed. He found that over the past 40 years, anywhere from half to nearly three quarters of students with intellectual disabilities spend most or all of their day in self-contained classrooms or schools, essentially segregated from the rest of the school or school district population.

His study notes fluctuations over time, but Brock said in the 1990s, states started to make great strides toward inclusive practices, but in the mid-2000s, the data shows a leveling off of the progress that led to a plateau in 2014, which is the latest available data.

Brock said that has a direct impact on student learning.

“[Students with disabilities] don’t have opportunities to practice social skills in authentic settings, [they] don’t have opportunities to build friendships with people without disabilities,” Brock said.

He added there are learning opportunities that nondisabled students miss out on as well.

“We build a society where people without disabilities see someone with a significant disability as someone who is separate, that they don’t know very well, that they’ve never gotten the opportunity to interact with, which is sad,” he said.

Mixed settings encourage inclusive communities, Brock said.

To explain why he believes progress has plateaued, in an earlier study, Brock looked at how student placements vary at the local level.

In Ohio, Brock said, you see a larger number of students with disabilities in urban school districts spending a majority of their time in isolated settings, while in rural districts there is a heavier reliance on general education classrooms.

Brock explained that is likely because larger school districts have been able to invest in special education classrooms, teachers, and even schools.

Brock is a former educator who worked with kids with disabilities and now trains teachers to work with the same population of students. As an advocate, Brock said he wants to see more students spending time in mixed settings, but he said there’s no evidence that past decisions to invest in special education programs were made with the intent to segregate the student population.

In fact, Brock said, it’s much more likely that the investments were made with the intent of providing these students with specialized or individualized learning opportunities, but he added the amount of time a student spends in any particular setting should be the decision of that student’s parent.

“Even though, I’m advocating at a systems level for increased inclusion, if I were a parent I would be looking at the quality of the options being offered in separate classrooms and I would balance my preference for inclusion with the quality of services that are in place,” Brock said.

He added that he wished all schools and school districts were able to afford high quality experiences for all children, but that’s not the case so he encourages parents to make those decision at the individual level.