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(7.2) What do the terms “mainstreaming”, “integration”, “full inclusion”, and “reverse mainstreaming” mean?

(7.2) What do the terms “mainstreaming”, “integration”, “full inclusion”, and “reverse mainstreaming” mean?

None of these terms appear or are defined in federal or state statutes. They are terms that have been developed by educators to describe various ways of meeting the LRE requirements of special education law. As a result, different educational agencies (school districts, Special Education Local Planning Areas (SELPAs), or county offices) may have somewhat different definitions of these terms. The definitions below are

the most commonly used. However, when discussing these terms with educators, make sure that you and the educator agree on the meaning of the term.

Mainstreaming refers to placement of a student with disabilities into ongoing activities of regular classrooms so that the child receives education with nondisabled peers — even if special education staff must provide supplementary resource services.

Integration includes mainstreaming into regular classes and access to, inclusion, and participation in the activities of the total school environment. Integration combines placement in public schools with ongoing structured and non-structured opportunities to interact with nondisabled, age-appropriate peers. A student with severe disabilities should be able to participate in many general school activities such as lunch, assemblies, clubs, dances or recess. The student should also be able to participate in selected activities in regular classes such as art, music, or computers. The student should also be able to participate in regular academic subjects in regular classes if appropriate curriculum modifications are made and adequate support is provided. The student should be able to use the same facilities as nondisabled students including hallways, restrooms, libraries, cafeterias and gymnasiums.

Integration can refer to integration of a special education student into a regular education classroom in the same sense as in “mainstreaming.” However, “integration” also refers to placement of students in special education classes located on integrated school sites (that is, sites that have both special and regular education classes). An “integrated” placement includes systematic efforts to maximize interaction between the student with disabilities and nondisabled peers.

Full inclusion refers to the total integration of a student with disabilities into the regular education program with special support. In full inclusion, the student’s primary placement is in the regular education class. The student has no additional assignment to any special class for students with disabilities. Thus, the student with disabilities is actually a member of the regular education class. She is not being integrated or mainstreamed into the regular education class from a special day class. The student need not be in the class 100% of the time, but can leave the class to receive related services such as speech or physical therapy. For a proposed list of characteristics of a “Full Inclusion” approach to integrated special education programming, see Indicators of Fully Inclusive Programs for Students with Disabilities, Appendices Section, Appendix O.

Reverse mainstreaming refers to the practice of giving opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers to a student who is placed in a self-contained or segregated classroom (or school) or who lives and attends school at a state hospital. It brings nondisabled students to a self-contained classroom, segregated site or to state hospital classrooms for periods of time to work with or tutor students with disabilities. School districts should not attempt to fulfill the LRE mandate by using reverse mainstreaming exclusively.

They should make systematic efforts to get students with disabilities out of special classrooms and into the school’s integrated environments. Reverse mainstreaming alone is an artificial means of integration. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team should consider placements that encourage more natural interaction with nondisabled peers.

Special and regular educators must make innovative and systematic efforts to promote positive interactions between students with disabilities (both with severe disability and with learning disability) and their nondisabled peers.