PERSPECTIVES | Diversity Is Not Inclusion

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November 2018

School segregation continues to persist in New York City. Mayor de Blasio announced a new school diversity plan last summer that made “no mention of ‘integration’ or ‘segregation,’ opting instead to define the city’s goal as supporting ‘diversity’.” The Department of Education plan focuses on racial and economic diversity while also noting that schools should be more inclusive of students who are English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

Specifically, the plan defines inclusive schools as places “where a significant, representative number of students with disabilities are welcomed and served effectively.” It notes that high school and middle school student bodies should reflect the number of people with disabilities living in the borough or district.

Diversity and inclusion are not the same, and “Diversity Doesn’t Stick without Inclusion.” “Part of the problem is that ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are so often lumped together that they’re assumed to be the same thing. But that’s just not the case...As noted diversity advocate Vernā Myers puts it, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’”

While the goal is to have proportional representation of students with disabilities, this will not lead to inclusion. Schools may increase the number of students with disabilities, but those students may remain in restrictive environments where they don’t interact with their nondisabled peers. Also, the plan only targets middle and high schools, not students in District 75 programs nor students in the formative elementary grades where early friendships are made.

The Department of Education needs to invite students with disabilities and their families to the conversation from the beginning. While structures may be in place for family engagement, schools need to have real conversations about inclusion for students with disabilities in their school buildings, their culture, and in their community.