TASH Position Statement with Policy Recommendations on Inclusive Education

Revised September 15, 2021

Statement of Purpose

TASH believes that all students with disabilities, including those with the most significant support needs, should:

(a) be presumed competent;

(b) be welcomed as valued and contributing members of the schools they would attend if they did not have a disability and fully included in schools in natural proportions;

(c) be a part of reciprocal social relationships;

(d) have access to and make progress in their grade-age level general education curriculum alongside their peers with and without disabilities;

(e) have instruction on and with communication systems, and be provided with any additional appropriate supports and accommodations across inclusive contexts; and

(f) be engaged in specially-designed instruction embedded within general education classes, lessons, activities, and routines throughout the school-day and school-sponsored activities.

The evidence is clear that this results in better short- and long-term educational outcomes for all general education students, those both with and without disabilities.


A high-quality public education is the right of all school-age children and youth. Students with disabilities, including those with the most significant support needs, have a right to be educated in general education classes with other general education students who do not have disabilities. Education in general education settings implies more than just physical presence; it includes being a reciprocal member of the class with access to the curriculum that is taught in general education classes and the opportunity for students with disabilities to learn, grow and contribute alongside their non-disabled peers.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that children with disabilities have the right to attend public schools, receive a free and appropriate public education, have access to and make progress in content addressed during general education classes, lessons, activities, and routines. This constitutes the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in which students with extensive support needs receive a meaningful education that prepares them for postsecondary education, employment and careers, and life in their community.

Similarly, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), formerly known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), recognizes that our education system must ensure that all children have access to a high quality, grade-age level standards-based education. It also recognizes that schools must provide services and supports to students who are at-risk for not making progress in school.

Unfortunately, despite decades of research and hundred of millions of dollars in federal investment in identifying and validating evidence-based strategies in the areas of inclusive education and universal design, many students with disabilities continue to be isolated from their grade-age level peers and be educated separately and, as a result, often are being provided a diluted and inferior education. Because of this long history of exclusion and discrimination, many students with disabilities have been denied access to the general education curriculum and from the school they would attend if they did not have a disability. This has resulted in them being unnecessarily isolated from their grade-age level peers who do not have disabilities for most, if not all, of their school experiences.

Every school community should provide a quality inclusive education for all students with disabilities that is predicated on a shared vision of high expectations for all students.

TASH calls on policymakers to fund support services and to create programs and curricula that meet the needs of all students, specifically those with the most significant support needs.

Fully inclusive schools are characterized by the following components which are supported through evidence-based research:

  • High expectations for all students;
  • A single set of general education standards that embraces all students;
  • Access for all students to campuses, classrooms, activities and routines, including co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, that are free from prejudice and other physical and psychological barriers;
  • Comprehensive and culturally relevant curricula that are effective for the full range of learners;
  • Thorough analysis of the learning needs of all students;
  • Explicit teaching of a communication system, including aided language modeling during instruction using the students’ modes of communication (e.g., sign, AAC, eye gaze);
  • Full participation in all state or district wide assessments and student performance accountability systems;
  • Measuring whether schools and Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) are making progress toward enabling all students to meet challenging standards set for all students and holding schools and districts accountable, in part, through public reporting requirement;
  • Professional development designed to ensure that teachers of students with disabilities are knowledgeable about research- and evidence-based practices for effectively teaching students with the most significant support needs;
  • Provision of all necessary and appropriate supports and services to provide all students with opportunities for success;
  • Access to accommodations and modifications, which allow students to access the general education curriculum, instruction, assessment, and accountability systems;
  • The use of positive behavioral supports that are based on functional behavioral assessment, and simultaneous protection from disciplinary mechanisms that are proven to be unsafe for children (including but not limited to seclusion, aversive interventions, and restraints); and
  • Transition goals and activities that reflect an expectation of all students engaging in post-secondary education, employment, and living and participating in their communities.

Policy Recommendations

Seek passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASSA) to prohibit the use of seclusion, aversive interventions, and restraints (i.e., physical, mechanical, chemical) in educational settings.

  • Ensure that individuals with the most significant support needs are not exempt from KASSA.
  • Ensure that students with challenging behaviors are not prevented from attending the school they would attend if they did not have disabilities in general education classes with same grade-age level classmates.

Strengthen federal protection of students who take the Alternate Assessment.

  • Alternate assessments should be directly related to grade-age level content standards and not result in an alternate set of standards or alternate curricula used for instruction.
    • Participation in alternate assessment should not result in removal from general education classes and full access to the general education curriculum. Participation in alternative assessments should not automatically disqualify students from receiving a diploma.
    • Families are informed of consequences to their child’s participation in alternate assessment, and school districts are required to provide informed choice about assessment and graduation options, as well as provide families educational and informational resources on all options with respect to LRE selection.
    • States review student outcome data, policies, practices, and structures to determine unintended consequences of students’ engagement in alternate assessments— such as the creation of an alternate track, over- or under-representation, or use of a different primary curricula than general education grade-age level peers.
    • IEPs outline strategies to be implemented to address barriers to students having access to general education placements, so individual students are moving to a less restrictive environmental option by the following year; additionally, plans should be included for students who initially were placed on an alternative assessment track to be transitioned back to the diploma track.

Use strategies for reinforcing the IDEA’s guarantee of a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

  • Align Language Around Specially Designed Instruction: Use IDEA’s focus on inclusion in the grade-age level general education classroom with peers as the preferred placement.
  • Tie Specially Designed Instruction to General Education Objectives: Any specially designed instruction for students with extensive and pervasive support needs must be –
    • designed in collaboration with general and special education teachers;
    • aligned with the grade-age level general educational curriculum before it is used; and 
    • verified that the instruction can be embedded during general education instruction within general education classes, activities, and routines.
  • Multi-tiered Systems of Support: Make sure that students with the most significant support needs are included in all tiers of support related to accessing general educational settings, including academic and positive behavior supports.
  • Revamp the LRE Determination Process:
    • Revise the IDEA language around a “continuum of services” to clearly state that services and supports should be implemented in “most inclusive settings.”
    • Strengthen the definition of LRE:  Define LRE as the grade-age general education classes, activities, and routines.
    • Add stricter procedural elements around the requirement that all students receive instruction first in general education classes with appropriate supports and services. Establish procedures which use evidence- and research-based practices with fidelity, over a sufficient amount of time with data-based decision making, to demonstrate effectiveness and individualization of those supports and services within grade-age level general education classes.
  • Improve Access to Adequate Communication Supports Vital for Educational Success:  Add an IEP component that is consistent with the assistive technology components of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title II and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and include a funded plan for developing a robust multi-modal communication system for students of any age who do not yet have a symbolic mode of communication (i.e., oral language, augmentative communication system, and/or manual signs) which they use fluently over a full range of communicative functions.
  • Provide Simultaneous Access to Communications Systems and Speech Services: Students who do not have a robust communication system cannot be dismissed from speech services.
  • Assure Portability:  Amend IDEA to provide better portability (e.g., school to school, district to district, state to state) of federally guaranteed services and promote stability in the implementation of IEPs.
  • Publish Data on Performance Metrics: Require states to accurately report outcome data (e.g., post-secondary education, employment, community living, quality of life indicators) for students served by IDEA, by disability category and assessment type.
  • Publish Data on Student Movement Across Placement Options: Require states to accurately report data on the number of students whose placement became more inclusive or more restrictive.
  • Compliance of School Choice Options with IDEA: Regularly review school choice initiatives including public charter schools, vouchers, and voucher-like programs (including but not limited to traditional vouchers, education savings accounts, tuition tax credits/scholarships, or microgrants) to ensure they comply with IDEA as well as the accountability provisions under ESSA and do not adversely affect public education by diverting public funds to private schools or reducing revenue through preferential tax treatment.
  • Implement a Universally and Culturally Responsive Assessment Process: Ensure appropriate assessments for all students with disabilities by developing universally designed assessments that accurately measure the progress of students with disabilities.
  • Facilitate Early Intervention: Ongoing professional development and systemic evaluation to review all IEP assessments, progress monitoring, and decisions so they are universally designed and culturally responsive to prevent inappropriate classifications.
  • Increase Investments in Universal Pre-K: School districts often struggle to fund inclusive preschool programs. They have funding for students with disabilities, but not students without disabilities. Students with disabilities who attend inclusive pre-K programs are more likely to attend inclusive kindergartens.
  • Assure Access to Inclusion Support in IEP Process: Schools and districts have a qualified Inclusion Support Specialist whose duties center around supporting effective inclusive practices for students with extensive and pervasive support needs, beginning with the transition from Pre-K to Kindergarten.
    • The inclusion support specialist provides job-embedded professional development, expertise in skills related to inclusive practices such as adapting materials, evidence-based practices for inclusion, embedded and specially designed instruction that includes the use of individualized accommodations, modifications, and/or different performance expectations.
  • Strengthen Systems Evaluations for Inclusivity: Districts have a system by which the quality of inclusive practices in each of their schools is evaluated through the use of a validated tool.
  • Foster Investments in Evidence-Based Practices for Fostering Inclusive Education: Allocate adequate funds to conduct research, and to develop and implement evidence-based practices in inclusive classes from early intervention through postsecondary education to support students with disabilities, specifically those with the most significant support needs.
  • Assure Access to Technology (AT): Regularly review coverage of technology needs (including but not limited to internet access).
    • Considerations around AT include internet access and technology needs to assist the student’s learning.
    • Establish clear qualifications for AT specialists and guidance for school districts on how to assure strong collaboration between AT specialists and district information technology personnel so that applications and accessories can be added as needed to support individual students’ learning needs on a real-time basis.
    • Work collaboratively with community partners (e.g. Medicaid, Medicare, private funders, state AT Coalitions) to address the needs of families in acquiring appropriate AT.
  • Adopt and expand on Universal Design Framework: Adopt the definition of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) from the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) and require training, job-embedded professional development, and coaching on UDL, as well as requiring materials, curriculum, instruction, and assessments to align with the UDL framework.
  • Fund Incentives to Promote Increased Use of Inclusive Educational Practices: Tie new funding related to IDEA implementation to improvements in LRE, especially for students who have extensive and pervasive support needs and who have historically been segregated.
    • Tie additional funding for professional development to improve inclusive educational practices (e.g. UDL co-planning, co-teaching, and co-assessing).
    • Support the development of flexible scheduling that would allow related service providers to provide services outside school hours to maximize curricular instructional time in the classroom.
  • Promote Successful Youth-to-Adulthood Transition:  Promote successful transition of students with the most significant support needs to achieve optimal independence in adulthood.
    • Align the age of transition services to be consistent with the pre-vocational provisions in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014. 
    • Strengthen the transition from school to adult life by requiring schools to coordinate with state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies in the implementation of transition IEP requirements and WIOA provisions.

Fund Postsecondary Education: Fully fund disability provisions in Title VII of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), including the Model Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities and Coordinating Center, National Technical Assistance Centers, and programs to provide students with disabilities with a quality higher education.  

  • Ensure students with disabilities, including those with the most significant support needs, have access to all forms of federal financial aid; 
  • Ensure that all students with disabilities have access to academic courses and the full range of campus programs and activities, including integrated housing;
  • Require colleges to accept a student’s relevant formal documentation of disability from high school when seeking accommodations so students are not required to undergo new costly evaluation to re-prove existence of a disability;
  • Ensure that information is made publicly available on the types of support services offered to help students and their families in selecting a school; and
  • Ensure proper implementation of provisions of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act on career and technical education regarding greater inclusion and access for students with disabilities.

Seek Federal guidance that addresses challenges and opportunities as a result of  moving to hybrid or virtual instruction for ensuring students with extensive and pervasive support needs are able to access and successfully participate in the general education curriculum with both disabled and non-disabled peers.

  • Ensure that students with the most significant support needs, including those who are medically fragile, have hybrid options while at the same time ensuring that virtual education does not become a new segregated placement for such students.
    • Related Services Personnel: seek federal guidance that allows school districts flexibility in reimbursing the provision of services that can be done virtually v. services that need to be hands-on and provided in person (and services that can/should be offered in both a virtual and in-person environment).
      • Example:  Use of Paras in a virtual, hybrid, or in-person environment.
    • Reaffirm the responsibility of school districts to finance/provide any indirect services necessary to support an inclusive education under a virtual, hybrid, or full-time in-person model.