OCDE partners on national initiative for inclusive education

Teacher with students in classroom

Reflecting its ongoing commitment to inclusive education, the Orange County Department of Education has been selected by the SWIFT Education Center at the University of Kansas to participate in a national initiative aimed at increasing belonging and learning opportunities for students with disabilities.

Working with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs, SWIFT’s National Center on Inclusion Toward Rightful Presence recently announced a partnership with OCDE, the Delaware Department of Education, the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to improve systems and practices in all four states.

Each agency will collaborate with two school districts and eight schools, impacting a total of 32 campuses, to strengthen inclusion and enhance educational opportunities for students who are currently served outside of general education settings.

According to a news release from the University of Kansas, the partners were selected for their track records of building more equitable educational systems for students, families and communities. OCDE, which leads a statewide initiative to scale up the California Multi-Tiered System of Support framework, is participating on behalf of the California Department of Education.

“These partnerships will bring about changes in systems, policies and practices that result in meaningful engagement in general education for students traditionally kept at the margins of school,” said Amy McCart, KU research professor and co-director of SWIFT. “This includes students with the most significant disabilities who benefit from intensive support when receiving high-quality academic instruction aligned with general education standards, delivered among peers in the same grade-level classroom.”

‘A moral imperative’

In making its announcement, the SWIFT Education Center, which is based at the KU Life Span Institute, highlighted the past work of each partnering agency. SWIFT noted that the California Department of Education selected OCDE to be the lead agency to scale up California MTSS, a framework that provides a range of interventions and services for students based on their individual academic, behavioral, social-emotional and mental health needs. Embedded within California MTSS is the Universal Design for Learning, which encourages multiple means of engagement, representation and expression in the classroom.

“Our commitment to inclusive education is not just policy — it’s a moral imperative,” OCDE Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ramon Miramontes said. “We’re resolutely working toward creating educational systems that ensure rightful presence for every student, fostering an environment where all can thrive and succeed.”

Disabled student writing at desk

The other agencies were similarly recognized for actively promoting inclusive education practices. 

The Delaware Department of Education emphasizes a whole-child Multi-Tiered System of Support with embedded Universal Design for Learning and evidence-based literacy instruction. The New Mexico Public Education Department has a robust Multi-Layered System of Supports, or MLSS, that includes professional learning communities and support for various disability types. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is focused on increasing the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education, backed by a statewide coaching system and a commitment to equity in access and outcomes.

Creating lasting impacts

“We are honored to have partners who have committed to working in deep and meaningful ways to change the system of support for students with intensive cognitive needs,” McCart said. “These dynamic learners offer so much, and we are excited to see how effective instructional support within general education will not only change their outcomes but also provide lasting systems for those learners who come next.”

In addition to providing support and technical assistance, SWIFT will monitor each state’s progress toward implementation. Assessment results will demonstrate how best to bring about inclusive reform in other school systems.

A previously announced federal grant helped establish the National Center on Inclusion Toward Rightful Presence and empowered the group to collaborate with local and state education agencies. The goal is to support educators and schools as they embrace inclusive and accessible learning environments.

“With each step, we are in pursuit of a brighter future, one where every student, regardless of their abilities, is not just included but fully embraced and valued in our educational system,” OCDE’s Miramontes said. “It’s a journey worth taking for each learner and the betterment of our society as a whole.”