Recently, I had an opportunity to share some of my school’s inclusive practices with a special educator from another district. I told him about using general education peer-tutors, inviting general education classes into self-contained classrooms for shared lessons, and helping typical and non-typical students change the school climate with respect to students with disabilities.
While my colleague was personally connected to the mission of inclusion, he was unsure that some of these practices could actually occur at his school, due to parental and administrative concerns over confidentiality. He cited a few incidences of parents who were quite protective of their child’s right to privacy within an education setting. I couldn’t help but wonder why I had never encountered this “right to privacy” issue at the school where I teach.
To be sure, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act includes a number of definitions and legal requirements, especially with respect to evaluations, personally identifiable information, and access to records. But I’ve never interpreted these rights as contrary to the mission of inclusive practices within schools.
Earlier this year, a fellow teacher asked whether I’d welcome some 25 students into our self-contained classroom so both classes could cook a healthy meal together and enjoy some home-made smoothies. The students in my classroom love to cook, so I jump at any opportunity that lets them do so. Was I a bit nervous about having 25 students in the classroom interacting and cooking with our students? Sure. But I also felt that part of my role is to model a sense of adventure and acceptance for the students in my program. If we could learn, cook, and eat together, chances were high that good things (read: peer interaction and social development) would follow.
On the day of the cooking lessons, I saw so many of the students from the general education classroom reach out to our students. I saw our teacher assistants joking around and introducing themselves. And for the most part, I didn’t see students with disabilities being helped and aided by typical students. What I really saw was a large group of students just cooking, socializing, and learning together. I saw a greater opportunity for our students to be recognized and acknowledged in the hallways – and I saw an opportunity for myself and my students to acknowledge new friends as well. Opportunities like these, despite concerns over confidentiality or protocol, improve the school climate for students with disabilities.
As I pondered my conversation about privacy with the teacher from the other school district, I couldn’t help but swing back to the idea that students with disabilities should be due an equal amount of privacy as are typical students – but that privacy shouldn’t come at the cost of separating those students from their peers or denying opportunities for social connection and enrichment.
I’d like to thank those veteran educators who have helped pushed the boundaries of inclusion for students with disabilities. I don’t think I’ve thought often enough or hard enough about the students and advocates in special education whose commitment to inclusion shaped the way in which I’m able to educate students today. By no means are we at the end of our journey, but it’s amazing to think how far some programs have come as a result of such commitment.