The U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services today released guidance urging early learning programs to include children with disabilities.
The guidance sets a vision for action that recommends states, districts, schools and public and private early childhood programs prioritize and implement policies that support inclusion, improve their infrastructure and offer professional development to strengthen and increase the number of inclusive high-quality early childhood programs nationwide. The Departments crafted the guidance with the input of early learning professionals, families and early learning stakeholders. The policy statement also includes free resources for states, local districts, early childhood personnel and families.
“As our country continues to move forward on the critical task of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for all children, we must do everything we can to ensure that children with disabilities are part of that,” Duncan said. “States, school districts, local organizations, communities and families must work together so that children with disabilities have access to programs that offer individualized and appropriate help in meeting high expectations.”
“Meaningful inclusion supports children with disabilities in reaching their full potential. We know that children with disabilities, including those with the most significant disabilities and the highest needs, can make significant developmental and learning progress in inclusive settings,” said Linda K. Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Early Childhood Development , U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Children without disabilities who are in inclusive settings can also show positive gains in developmental, social and attitudinal outcomes.”
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the 50th anniversary of Head Start. While tremendous progress toward equality for children with disabilities has been made, children with disabilities and their families continue to face significant barriers to accessing inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, and too many preschool children with disabilities are only offered the option of receiving special education services in settings separate from their peers without disabilities. The Education Department’s new Preschool Development Grants and the Department of Health and Human Services’ new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships support inclusive settings for tens of thousands of additional young children across the country.
Duncan made the announcement during the Education Department’s sixth annual back-to-school bus tour launch event at Woodland Early Learning Community School in Kansas City, Missouri. After the announcement, senior administration officials held a roundtable with state leaders in both Kansas and Missouri on supporting inclusion efforts. Both states committed to mobilizing existing early childhood councils or taskforces to prioritize inclusion and implement recommendations in the policy statement, leading the way for other states.
The bus tour runs through Friday and will include stops in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Champaign and Williamsfield, Illinois; West Lafayette and Indianapolis, Indiana; Louisville, Kentucky; Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Duncan and other senior Department officials will hold events highlighting the progress and achievements of educators, children, families and leaders in expanding opportunity for children throughout the nation.