‘Inclusion’ in High Schools: It’s not Inclusive

By Kendall Albrecht

Fifteen percent of public school students in the United States receive special education services, adding up to about 7.2 million students. The already high number only continues to increase as schools expand their available resources, so why do we not see this large population involved in student life? Football games, rallies, and even lunchtime activities provide the excitement and fun required for a fulfilling high school experience. Attending these events enthusiastically, neurotypical students, or those not utilizing special education services, fail to recognize the complete absence of their peers involved in the special education department. Separated at lunch and in their classroom during passing periods, students with learning challenges are shielded from sight even outside of extracurricular events.  

While nationwide organizations and clubs exist for the very purpose of promoting inclusion, these attempts often prove ineffective. Although no doubt kind and empathetic individuals, both leaders and members of these groups lose their concept of what benefits the impacted students, distracted by the idea of making a difference. Inclusion clubs spend their time on activities such as making posters to decorate special education classrooms, but does this action really enhance their school experience? Truthfully,  a neurotypical student would not notice or care if some construction paper snowflakes made by strangers appeared on their classroom wall, so why should we expect special education students to respond any differently? Contributing to a common misconception, well-intentioned individuals unconsciously assume that neurodivergent (differing in mental or neurological function) teenagers have a lessened mental and emotional capacity, where in reality, the only differentiating factor between them and their peers is their support needs and personalized path to achieve goals. Members of inclusion-promoting clubs pride themselves in improving this section of their community, so much so that they easily forget to fully consider the true desires of the neurodivergent student population: to be included. 

Simply having people willing to take initiative in starting and joining inclusion-driven groups has schools already heading the right direction. Programs pairing club members with a special education buddy provides a progressive connection between neurodivergent and neurotypical students. However much more must be done with this bond. Rather than doing crafts for the special education students, giving them a chance to participate strengthens the friendship between buddies and gives the decorations significance. Any student would much rather see their own work displayed in their classroom—especially when created alongside a cherished friend—than that of unmeaningful origin. Yet spending one-on-one time together cannot fully normalize inclusion. The connection must extend outside of the classroom as well. Club members should go to events such as football games and rallies with their neurodivergent friends, providing a friendly, familiar face alongside the opportunity to meet more, all paired with an experience every highschooler hopes to enjoy. Through their valued connection, the special education population can be seamlessly integrated within the student community, achieving the inclusion everyone deserves.