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A.F.T. Says Poll Shows Many Oppose 'Inclusion'

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Anaheim, Calif.

The American Federation of Teachers has intensified its campaign against "full inclusion'' by releasing a poll showing that most teachers oppose putting disabled students in regular classrooms.

The survey, released at the A.F.T.'s convention here last month, reinforces the union's position on the full-inclusion movement, which has gained momentum over the past few years.

Last year, the union called for a moratorium on the practice until the issues of funding, teacher training, and extra classroom assistance are addressed. (See Education Week, Jan. 12, 1994.)

And delegates passed a resolution last month denouncing the wholesale inclusion of special-education students without regard to the nature or severity of their disabilities.

The policy condemns "dumping'' practices, such as moving disabled students into regular classrooms without individualized education programs, as required by federal law.

The National Education Association approved a policy at its annual meeting last month urging that disabled students be placed in regular classrooms only when teachers have received special training and assistance. The N.E.A., however, stopped short of insisting that the practice be discontinued.

The A.F.T.'s president, Albert Shanker, and other union leaders cited an increase in claims by teachers that disabled students were monopolizing their time and making it difficult to devote attention to other students.

Advocates of inclusion say all students benefit when disabled children gradually move into regular classrooms and educators are prepared to handle their needs.

Time and Money

In the survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the A.F.T., more than three-quarters of teachers said they would object to their schools adopting a full-inclusion policy.

The company polled 400 teachers in districts that either have a full-inclusion policy or are preparing to adopt one.

The findings show that many teachers oppose full inclusion even in cases in which instructors are given sufficient training and resources.

Marcia Reback, the head of the union's task force on special education, said some districts appear to be jumping on the bandwagon even as they make budget cuts, indicating that the programs have been adopted without enough funding.

Many of the teachers polled who have disabled students in their regular classes said the children are not receiving the best services. About 60 percent said they did not have the time to give special-needs students the attention they deserve.

Some parents and advocates for children with disabilities have raised similar concerns.

About half of the teachers responding to the poll said the presence of disabled children made it more difficult to maintain discipline in their classrooms.

'Zero Tolerance'

The A.F.T.'s policy also calls for removing limitations on educators for disciplining special-education students who are disruptive or dangerous to themselves and their classmates.

"There is an uneven application of discipline, which is very frustrating for teachers,'' said Ms. Reback, the president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. "The lesson that's sent out is that some kids can misbehave with impunity.''

Union leaders also urged last month that more alternative schools for disruptive or violent students be established.

John Cole, the president of the Texas Federation of Teachers, said the schools could be housed in community centers, churches, or storefronts to save on construction costs.

"We're spending a tremendous amount on these students already,'' Mr. Cole said. He cited the cost of hiring school police officers and other staff members and installing metal detectors.

"This might be solved better by getting the 1 percent to 2 percent of students [who are disruptive] out of the school population,'' added Mr. Cole, the chairman of the union's task force on school safety and discipline.

The A.F.T.'s policy on school violence, adopted by delegates last month, calls for setting clear codes of conduct for students and insuring that there will be swift consequences for those who break the rules.

The resolution proposes adopting a nationwide "zero tolerance'' policy for weapons, drugs, and violence on school campuses.

Under such a policy, which many school districts already have adopted, students would be barred from school for any offense.

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