Inclusion in early childhood programs is supported through years of research and reinforced by a strong legal foundation. In a joint policy statement, the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) and Education (USED) indicated that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) supports equal educational opportunities for eligible children with disabilities birth through age 21. The statement also said that, “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 long-term goal for preschool aged children is for them to be as ready as possible to enter kindergarten. The earlier services are provided for children with disabilities, the better the long-term prognosis. Children with special needs who have experienced support early in life do better in future settings. Research shows that participation in programs with typically developing peers is beneficial to all and enhances the language, social skills and participation in a preschool program of all children. For more information about programs for typically developing peers, contact your local school division or go to Early Childhood Education and Virginia Head Start Association.
- Virginia Early Childhood Inclusion Guidance Document - This guidance document is designed to assist Virginia’s school divisions and early childhood communities in identifying, developing and sustaining inclusive opportunities within high-quality early childhood programs for children with disabilities:
- Inclusive Placement Opportunities for Preschoolers (IPOP) – Developed by the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Early Childhood Network, IPOP is a systems approach to increasing the quantity and quality of inclusion for preschool students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs). It provides a planning guide and accompanying resources to support school divisions’ preschool programs in implementing inclusive practices across the commonwealth.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children With Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs-This is a PDF document. - In September 2015, the Used and the USDHHS issued a joint policy statement on promoting inclusion in early childhood programs to set a vision on the issue and to provide recommendations to states, local educational agencies (LEAs), schools and public and private early childhood programs.
- Dear Colleague Letter on Preschool Least Restrictive Environments-This is a PDF document. - In 2017, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services updated a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) on Preschool Least Restrictive Environments (LRE). The policy guidance provided key statutory and regulatory requirements, preschool placement options and information related to educational environments data for preschool children with disabilities.
- U.S. Department of Education Early Learning Inclusion – Resources related to inclusion in early childhood.
- Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center Inclusion Resources (ECTA) – Tools and resources include documents related to developing policy and guidance; strategies for collaborative funding, including braided funding, and self-assessments.
- National Professional Development Center on Inclusion
- Head Start Center for Inclusion
To see videos of projects demonstrating inclusion of preschoolers in a variety of contexts and to see more information on inclusive practices, please visit the VDOE Inclusive Practices page.