Students arrive for the first day of classes at Zama Middle High School at Camp Zama, Japan, Aug. 21, 2023.

Students arrive for the first day of classes at Zama Middle High School at Camp Zama, Japan, Aug. 21, 2023. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

Defense Department schools are moving students with learning disabilities into general education classrooms for some subjects, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense Education Activity – Pacific confirmed Friday.

Special education students will be transitioned out of dedicated classes in areas like math and English language arts and into general education, Miranda Ferguson wrote in an emailed statement to Stars and Stripes on Friday. DODEA administers schools for eligible children on U.S. military bases worldwide.

The students will continue to have access to “differentiated, direct instruction” from a special education teacher who will co-teach and collaborate with general education staff, she said.

Ferguson, who declined further comment Friday, did not provide a timeline for the transition or specify whether the change will impact DODEA special education students worldwide. She said further questions could be discussed during an in-person interview scheduled Tuesday with Stars and Stripes.

Some parents of special education students have been told by teachers that the transition will take place next school year.

“In order to ensure our students with disabilities receive the same access to rigorous courses as non-disabled students, we are transitioning away from stand-alone special education classes,” Ferguson wrote. “At DoDEA, we strive to provide excellence in education for every student, every day, everywhere.”

The move follows an Indiana University study released in May in the Journal of Special Education that found students with disabilities spending 80% more time in inclusive classrooms fare better in reading and math than peers in special education classrooms.

The research indicates these students are “more prepared” for successful post-secondary education and employment, according to an abstract on a Department of Education website.

Special education policy was set in the United States in 1975 with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures “a free appropriate public education” to eligible children with disabilities and “special education and related services.”

Defense Department policy on special education was codified in June 2015.

DODEA defines special education as “specially designed instruction, support, and services” provided to students, ages 3 through 21, with a disability that requires “an individually designed instructional program to meet their unique learning needs,” according to the department’s website.

DODEA strives to provide special services to students in the “least restrictive environment” that is appropriate, the site states. The department provides consultations between special and general education staff, co-teaching in general education classrooms and supplementary aids and support.

The type of services and placement is based “upon a student’s individual need,” according to the website.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Grafenwoehr, Germany, for Stars and Stripes since 2024. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Okinawa, Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the news organization. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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