The Department of Education and Health and Human Services released a new joint guidance document [PDF] September 14, calling on states and school districts to improve their efforts to provide inclusive early childhood education.
“It is the Departments’ position that all young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early education programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations,” the report states.
According to the DOE, 54.3 percent of preschoolers with disabilities in 2013 where provided services in settings segregated from their peers. This percentage, which has changed little in the past three decades, exists despite the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s mandate that school district place children with disabilities in the least restrictive setting according to their needs.
The guidance document comes four months after the DOE and HHS released a short five-page memo, intended to invite public feedback in developing the recommendations. Since the report is a policy memo, its proposals are recommendations and thus are not legally binding regulations.
The 43-page report provides an extensive overview of the social science research supporting inclusive education, as well as the legal requirements for preschool under the IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
The DOE and HHS call on states to create state-level interagency task forces to improve the ways it provides early education and related services, particularly in regard to linking these services with necessary health and social services to improve outcomes.
In addition, the report recommends that states and school districts set clear goals and improve data collection efforts, as well as strengthen accountability measures and parental involvement, among other measures.
“The vision presented here, that all children have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, requires strong State and local leadership, a shared responsibility and commitment within communities, and robust partnership between families, schools, communities, and government at all levels,” the report states. “By striving toward this vision and implementing these recommendations, we can move forward as a country in honoring the rights of all our youngest children and living up to the American ideal of offering an equal opportunity for all.”
More information about early childhood learning initiatives by the DOE are available on their website. In addition, information about HHS’ early childhood programs are on their website.