USED & White House
New Guidance on Early Ed Inclusion Published by ED, HHS

This week the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services released a new “policy statement” on the inclusion of students with disabilities in early childhood education programs.  The statement is intended to provide recommendations to States, school districts, schools, and other programs for improving and increasing inclusion of students with disabilities in programs which serve students from birth to age five.  These programs include private or publically funded centers, family-based care, home visiting, Early Head Start, Head Start, private preschool, and public and community-based pre-kindergarten programs.  Overall, the two agencies say they expect “high-quality inclusion,” and that “all young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations.”

The agencies say the new policy statement is based on studies which support the inclusion of children with disabilities from an early age as beneficial for those students and their peers, and on laws including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  All these laws, the agencies assert, prohibit discrimination in public environments and in places of public accommodation including private schools and child care programs.  In addition, they say, the IDEA requirement that a child be placed in the least restrictive environment which meets his or her strengths and needs also requires inclusion. 

However, the agencies say, children with disabilities face “significant barriers” in accessing inclusive, high-quality early childhood programs.  These barriers include cultural or outdated attitudes and beliefs about the abilities of such children, a misinterpretation of IDEA requirements which leads to placing children in specialized or individualized educational environments, and a lack of training and expertise among staff.

The policy statement also recommends a number of free resources for various stakeholders, and lists actions that States should take to leverage existing resources and funds to promote inclusion.  There are also a number of suggestions for local actors including local educational agencies (LEAs), schools, and programs. 

The policy statement on early childhood inclusion is available here.

About the Author

Julia Martin is an attorney with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Association of ESEA State Program Administrators (NAESPA).