Policy to practice: The least restrictive environment and co -teach inclusion in Yonkers Public Schools

Donna Jeanne Martuge, Fordham University


The least restrictive environment mandate, a component of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that all students be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. The purpose of this study was to examine how the intent of the least restrictive environment is being met through co-teach elementary inclusion classes in the Yonkers Public Schools. A qualitative design was used with data collected at the district level as well as in 2 schools during a 3-month period. The data included over 11 open-ended interviews with selected participants who had knowledge of how the policy went from paper to practice. In addition, observations of building principals and co-teach inclusion classrooms were conducted and recorded in field notes. District and school documents were reviewed. Data were analyzed iteratively in order to draw and confirm conclusions. Ambiguity within the policy has led to a variety of models related to the implementation of the least restrictive environment throughout this country. The model this district selected was co-teach inclusion classes which included a general education teacher, a special education teacher, and a classroom aide. The findings of this study indicated that the administrators at central office and in the 2 schools see themselves as political agents who promote inclusion classes to their community. This was necessitated due to resistance to these mixed classes by parents of both types of students. In addition, it was found that the co-teach inclusion classes were developed within the school district without changing the structure of the organization. However, change requires information, training, support, and the ability to experience and observe success. Thus, to create inclusive schools, educational leaders must change the way schools are structured and re-teach those who interact with students. Change in education is often driven by policy, one that is created as a result of a recognized need and demand in society. The policy provides the drive to change the way schools function. The least restrictive environment mandate requires a significant change in how schools function as whole communities. This type of change requires systemic reform as opposed to simple technical change within isolated classrooms.

Subject Area

Special education

Recommended Citation

Martuge, Donna Jeanne, "Policy to practice: The least restrictive environment and co -teach inclusion in Yonkers Public Schools" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3210273.