Legal and Ethical Issues of Inclusion

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The inclusion of children with disabilities in the regular classroom has become a controversial issue in the area of special education. Definitions range from selective placement of special education students in one or more “regular” education classes to full-time placement of students with disabilities in the regular classroom. A review of the U.S. Constitution, federal legislation (i.e., IDEA, Section 504, ADA), and federal court cases clearly indicate that there is no legal mandate for “full inclusion.” Rather, the courts have consistently supported the key provisions of IDEA and other legislation that decisions be individualized for each student, that the “least restrictive environment” does not necessarily mean full inclusion in the regular classroom, and that decision making regarding children with disabilities needs to be based on sound reasoning about what is in the best interest of the child. There does, however, appear to be a clear preference for placing students in as mainstream an environment as possible. In addition to reviewing legal issues in inclusion, this paper reviews ethical issues regarding placement decisions of students with disabilities and presents an eight-step model of decision making to guide educators and psychologists in arriving at ethical (and legally sound) placement decisions.

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