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Oscar-Winning Film Examines Issue of Full Inclusion

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The issue of full inclusion for students with disabilities received attention last week in an unlikely forum--the 65th annual Academy Awards show.

"Educating Peter,'' a 30-minute film about the experiences of a boy with Down's syndrome over the course of a year in a regular 3rd-grade classroom, was the winner of the Oscar for best documentary short subject.

Gerardine Wurzburg, the film's co-director and co-producer, accepted the award from the actors Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington during the televised ceremony on March 29.

"To the advocates who are promoting full inclusion, let us move forward,'' Ms. Wurzburg said during her brief acceptance speech.

"Educating Peter'' beat out four other short documentaries nominated for the Academy Award. To qualify for the nomination, Ms. Wurzburg said in an interview, the film was screened last October in theaters in the Los Angeles area for the minimum of seven days.

Next month, a wider audience will be able to view the documentary on the pay-cable channel Home Box Office. HBO will air "Educating Peter'' on May 12 at 9:30 P.M. Eastern time. It will be repeated on the network on May 15, 17, and 23.

HBO funded the documentary, which was produced by Ms. Wurzburg and her late business partner, Thomas C. Goodwin, who recently died of prostate cancer. Their Washington-based media company, State of the Art Inc., has produced a number of film documentaries and videotapes dealing with education and medical topics, Ms. Wurzburg said.

"Educating Peter'' looks at the full-inclusion issue through the experience of Peter Gwazdauskis, a child with Down's syndrome who previously had to travel by bus each day to a attend a special-education school. When he reached the 3rd grade, he was invited by school officials in Blacksburg, Va., to attend a regular classroom in his neighborhood school, Gilbert-Linkous Elementary School.

The Virginia district that includes the school has been at the forefront of the full-inclusion movement, which calls for integrating students with disabilities into regular classrooms for the bulk of the school day instead of placing them in special-education facilities or mainstreaming them for only a portion of the day. (See Education Week, Nov. 18, 1992.)

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