Federal officials say that all children with disabilities should be able to attend preschool alongside their typically-developing peers.

Nearly four months after requesting public feedback on the issue, the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services are jointly issuing guidance to states, school districts and early childhood providers urging them to make a place for kids with special needs.

“As our country continues to move forward on the critical task of expanding access to high-quality early learning programs for all children, we must do everything we can to ensure that children with disabilities are part of that,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in announcing the effort this week during his annual back-to-school bus tour.

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As of 2013, more than half of preschoolers with special needs accessed special education services in segregated settings and that statistic has changed little in the last three decades, according to HHS and the Education Department. Often, the agencies said that separate settings are considered the first option for kids with disabilities, particularly for those with the most significant needs.

That’s not how it should be, the agencies said.

“It is the departments’ position that all young children with disabilities should have access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations,” the guidance indicates.

Educating youngsters with disabilities alongside their typically-developing peers sets the foundation for a lifetime of inclusion, federal officials said.

To change the status quo, the policy statement issued this week urges states to establish policies and task forces to promote inclusion, set and track goals and consider reallocating funding, among other steps.

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