Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name



Special Education

First Advisor

Gerald Oglan

Second Advisor

Marshall Zumberg


Special education policy and practice are ever evolving to best meet the needs of all students in an inclusive environment. Since the implementation the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) thirty years ago, students with special needs have moved from restrictive, exclusionary placements to being educated alongside their same aged non-disabled peers. As we have moved towards viewing special education as a service, not a place, including more students with disabilities in the general education setting and curriculum has become the expected practice in the majority of public schools in the United States. Despite this progress, students with emotional impairments remain the most excluded population from inclusive education and continue to have higher dropout and expulsion rates.

The purpose of this ethnographic study was to identify and examine what factors contribute to successful inclusion for students with emotional impairments. Through qualitative methods including classroom observations, review of records, artifact collection, and teacher and student interviews, characteristics of successful inclusion were examined. Teacher perceptions about including students with emotional impairments in their classrooms were explored as well as special education students' attitudes and beliefs about being included in the general education setting.

This study suggests that although past research shows that students with emotional impairments are the most excluded population from general education, this inequity can be changed. The inclusive culture at the research site was studied, providing a theory of the factors needed for successful inclusive practices. Six main factors were found across data sets to be necessary for successful inclusion to occur: (1) Communication and Collaboration, (2) Relationships, (3) Inclusive Classroom Environment, (4) Teaching Philosophy, (5) Coping Skills Acquisition, and (5) Student Self-Awareness. A commitment to creating and sustaining these components can lead to increased access to general education for students with emotional impairments.