Since the mid-1980s, a national dialogue has emerged concerning the effectiveness of special education programs. In a 1986 article, Madeleine C. Will, Assistant Secretary, OSERS, U.S. Department of Education stated that"... there is the stigmatization of students who have been placed in special programs which segregate them from their peers and from regular school activities. Often the results are lowered academic and social expectations on the part of students... which can lead to poor performance and an inability to learn effectively" (Exceptional Children, February, 1986). Will's comments helped to launch the movement known as the regular education initiative (REI). The aim of the REI is to serve as many children with disabilities as possible in the regular classroom.
For some, however, the REI is in practice a code word for the terms inclusion and full inclusion; these terms are generally considered synonymous. Full inclusion has been defined more recently in education to refer to the full time placement in general education of all students with disabilities and the elimination of special education (Exceptional Children, May, 1991). Two of the main supporters of full inclusion have been Susan and William Stainback who believe that the current dual system of special education and regular education has created an unnecessary and expensive need to classify students and the subsequent stereotyping of students. In addition, the Stainbacks believe that the dual system has fostered unnecessary competition rather than cooperation among professionals (Exceptional Children, October, 1984).
Full inclusion is not mentioned in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Furthermore, the concept is in sharp conflict with the procedural guarantees of Federal statutes and regulations-namely the least restrictive environment (LRE).
In addition, Davis and McCaul, in their document entitled New Perspectives on Education: A Review of the Issues and Implications of the Regular Education Initiative (September 1, 1989), claim that a review of literature demonstrates that many aspects of this movement are not sufficiently based on rigorous research. Without reasonable proof, how can parents be told the old way is no longer good? As Maryann Byrnes has asked, "if the laws have taught parents that we [teachers] my be wrong, should a parent believe this radical change?" (Exceptional Parent, January, 1990). Further, what if full inclusion is not the best way? Do we change back to the LRE?
The full inclusion debate has largely taken place among special educators. Regular educators are conspicuous by their absence. Laurence Lieberman has criticized the merger of speciat and regular education as similar to a wedding in which special education has forgotten to invite the bride-regular education (Exceptional Children, April, 1985). "Expecting general education teachers to welcome, successfully teach and manage, and tolerate the most disruptive and disturbed students is extremely naive and illogical, both from the viewpoint of common sense and from the perspective of available research" (Exceptional Children, September, 1988).
The movement toward full inclusion has recently gained some important support The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), in a recent report entitled Winners All: A Call for Inclusive Schools (October, 1992), is recommending that state boards of education encourage the merger of special education and general education departments in institutions of higher education. In addition, NASBE is calling upon the deans of colleges of education to endorse the theme of inclusion and move toward abolishing categorical training programs.
Moreover, courts are now recognizing the rights of students with disabilities to be educated with their nondisabled peers, i.e., Holland v Sacramento City School District, 1992, and Oberti v Board of Education of Clemeton, New Jersey, 1992. Because of these court decisions, the Center for Law and Education in Massachusetts is cUrrently disseminating a document which highlights strategies and remedies to address the key problems of full inclusion (Promoting Inclusion for All Students with Disabilities, October, 1992).
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC), which has pioneered legislation mandating a free and appropriate education, applauds the concept of inclusive schools in a recently released inclusion policy entitled The Child's Educational Needs Come First (May 12, 1993). But CEC also endorses the availability of options-a continuum of services and placements to meet each individual student's needs.
Where will adapted physical educators and physical educators position themselves? Where do you stand on this issue? The debate is upon us. The stakes are high. We should not miss the opportunity to take a position on this issue to shape the debate and influence the eventual outcome.