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Least Restrictive Environment

Least Restrictive Environment Although the ideas and reasons for inclusive education are very noble and can have a positive effect on many disabled students, mandating inclusion for all disabled students denies some the opportunity to appropriately learn in the least restrictive environment (LRE) as required by law. The fight for inclusive education has made enormous gains from when the National Association of Retarded Children was established in 1950 to 1990 when the public law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), P.L. 94-142, was revised. Educational systems have moved from not providing education at all for the disabled to providing schools for the disabled separate from non-disabled students. Recently “normal” schools have been practicing inclusion and have free rein to determine exactly how.

The problem facing policy makers today is whether or not all disabled children should be inclusioned. If the policy makers would just observe the disabled students being inclusioned and ignore all the rhetoric being presented to them, they will find that not all disabled children benefit from inclusion. On July 13,1996, Omer Zak compiled several articles the deaf and professionals who work with the deaf had submitted to him and presented them on the Internet under the title Deaf Persons and Experts Speak Out Against Inclusion. One of the writings submitted was entitled “Interpreter Isn’t Enough!” written by Leah Hager Cohen. The author is an interpreter for an eleventh grade deaf student that is being inclusioned in a regular school. Cohen explains how the deaf student will sit quietly by herself before class begins while the rest of the students are socializing and interacting with each other.

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The piece goes on to explain how the deaf student must look at the interpreter during class in order to receive the lesson being presented by the teacher. When the student looks takes her eyes off the interpreter to write in her notes the interpreter must stop signing. When the student looks back to the interpreter she begins signing again. The more often the student stops to write in her notes the farther behind the teacher the interpreter gets. As the interpreter falls behind she must try to catch up causing a loss of information. If the teacher adds a visual aid such as a map or a chart, the student must concentrate on three things causing her to fall even farther behind. The deaf student rarely has the opportunity to be the one to answer a question asked by the teacher due to the delay caused by using an interpreter. Before the interpreter even gets the question signed another student has answered it.

Cohen also explains that while a teacher will ask her how the student is doing many teachers will decline an invitation to ask the student herself via the interpreter. That declination has a tendency to alienate the deaf student even more. Joe Murray also contributed an article to Zak. Murray is a deaf person who was fully “inclusioned” throughout his academic career up and including college. Murray was by most standards a very successful student. He participated in sports and other extra curricular activities along with going to Europe as an exchange student.

Murray explains how in the mist of all his success he felt he was not living up to his potential and could not do so out side the deaf community. Murray had to make a concentrated effort at everything he did where as if he was in an environment with his deaf peers the flow of information and activity would have happened more naturally. One of the biggest argument supporters of full inclusion try to present is the fact that disabled students and non-disabled students will have the opportunity to socially interact with each other. It is hoped that this interaction will break down the prejudices and misconceptions people have about the disabled. In the case of a deaf student the opposite holds true.

In a school for the deaf the students can communicate and interact freely without any restrictions. When a deaf child is placed in a school for the hearing that child is isolated from the rest of her classmates. In order for successful learning to take place a student must feel valued and comfortable in the classroom (Ormrod). If a deaf child is isolated from her classmates due to the lack of communication she will never gain the feeling of being valued or comfortable. The information processing abilities of students must be taken into consideration when placing them in any academic situation.

Students need time to be able to think about and draw conclusions on what is being taught (Ormrod). If a deaf student and her interpreter are having problems keeping up with the classroom instruction the deaf student will miss the opportunities given by the teacher to properly think about and process the information and grasp the true concepts of the lesson. By not having the opportunity to perform the information processing stage of classroom instruction the deaf students rights to learn in the least restrictive environment as stated in P.L. 94-142, are clearly being violated. If the teacher does slow the pace of instruction down in order to allow the deaf student to keep up, others in the class will become bored and loose interest which infringes on their right to learn in the least restrictive environment.

As mentioned above, the rights of the non-disabled student can be violated by having students with certain disabilities in a normal classroom session. For example, a severely autistic child can be very difficult to control and can quickly turn a classroom into a chaotic mess (Mejia). Autistic children need to have a structured environment with very little disturbances. When a disturbance does occur such as an announcement over the P.A. system or a fire drill the autistic child will most often experience a form of a panic attack and causing them to become very disruptive and difficult to manage. As a result, valuable lesson time is wasted on calming the autistic child down. This is not only disturbing to the other students in the classroom but can be dangerous to them as well.

An autistic child will often get violent during an tantrum and may throw something or do something that will injure other students. If a tantrum occurs during a fire alarm the autistic child could prevent the rest of the class from safely exiting the building. The infringement on regular students rights does not stop with a possible disturbance in the classroom. In February of 1995 a behavior disordered (BD) student who was being fully inclusioned was convicted of the rape and murder of one of his classmates (Schlafly). The BD student used to be part of a supervised program in the most controlled environment for BD students. As a result of the new policy at McCluer North High School about full inclusion, the BD student was transferred into a regular classroom setting.

Shortly after his transfer he raped and murdered a 15 year-old freshman named Christine Smetzer. Are the average American students being overlooked in this whole process of inclusion? One quick look at the change in public school budgets will answer that question. In 1967 at least 80% of public school budgets where devoted to “regular education” while in 1996 that percentage rate dropped to 58.6% (Ratnesar). The 22% decrease is a result of absorbing the cost for special education and …

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