Date of Award

Spring April 2013

Access Restriction


Degree Name

Doctorate in Education



School or College

School of Education

First Advisor

Marta P. Baltodano

Second Advisor

Shane P. Martin

Third Advisor

Mary K. McCullough


Throughout the history of Catholic schools in Los Angeles, the mission of Catholic schools and the Archdiocese governing its schools has been clear: Catholic schools must strive to serve children with varied learning needs. However, despite calls for inclusion from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and efforts from trained administrators and professionals to help facilitate inclusion in schools, Catholic inclusive programs are not able to include all learners.

Using qualitative research with semi-structured interviews, focus group, and document review, this study uses the framework of ableism and disability studies to research and analyze the two questions regarding inclusive practices in one Catholic elementary school that has had a program running for five years. The research questions are as follows: 1) What are St. Mary teachers’ beliefs, experiences, and perceptions about disability and inclusive education? 2) What do St. Mary teachers and administrators think are the best ways to foster acceptance of inclusive education in the school?

Despite the fact that Catholic educators recognize that Catholic schools, as a matter of social justice, should be teaching all children, it is challenging and frustrating for them. Due to a lack of resources and support, limited exposure and experience of people with disabilities, and technical special education training, even the most dedicated, talented, and sympathetic Catholic educators wanting to serve children with special needs have difficulty doing so. Reasons relating to inconsistent teacher training, beliefs and experiences that students with special needs are “trouble,” limited resources, and teachers’ perceptions of fairness, time, and equity, all contribute to teachers’ frustration and limitations when including learners with special needs in their classrooms.

The significance of this research study lies in documenting a Catholic school’s experience of developing, evolving, and establishing a working model of an inclusion program in one Los Angeles Catholic elementary school. To this end, this study provides larger contextual data to those in similar Catholic school settings across America about Catholic teacher training and the implementation of inclusive practices in Catholic schools. Also, this study hopes to further the discussion in the field of Catholic education about the right(s) of all Catholic children, regardless of ability, to a Catholic education, since, according to the Vatican, that it is a matter of human dignity that they receive a spiritual and emotional education as well as one that is appropriately academic.