Montclair State University is helping schools in New Jersey place special-needs students in regular classrooms with their peers.

Montclair State University's Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health and the New Jersey Coalition for Inclusive Education have received an $8 million federal grant for the five-year project.

Dr. Gerard Costa, director of the Center for Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health and professor at the College of Education and Health Services, said the state is trying to move away from the practice of segregating and isolating children with disabilities.

New Jersey continues to have one of the highest rates of students with disabilities in separate educational settings in the country. The National Center for Educational Statistics' most recent public report on special education data in 2017 found that almost 64% of children receiving special education were in inclusive settings. In New Jersey, 44% were in that category.

Costa said inclusion is important because students with disabilities often have enormous strengths and capacities but that the more typical ways of educating those children might not reveal those capacities for communication, reasoning or social engagement. He said it's critical to regard all students as needing some individual support.

The New Jersey Inclusive Education Assistance Project will teach schools how to understand the individual learning differences of students. Fifteen school sites will be recruited each year and get a year-long series of support from the team.

The application can be found at www.njieta.org.

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