Special Education – Placement, Is Inclusion Best?
The IEP is written and now there should be some discussion about placement. What options are there and what is best for your child? Those are the questions for the team. Like the IEP, the placement decision is very important to the success of your child. IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, is very specific about what should be provided to students with disabilities. IDEA says that your child should be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) where they can make effective progress. Below we will look at some of the options available for placement of students with disabilities.
LRE – Least Restrictive Environment
What does that mean? Well, historically kids with disabilities were segregated from attending school with their typical peers. They were either kept at home or sent to “special schools” or they were put in basement classrooms and weren’t allowed to socialize or participate with everyone else. Plus, they weren’t taught what everyone else was taught, like math and science. Education Reform changed that and subsequently IDEA was reauthorized in 2004. IDEA says that students should be educated in the least restrictive environment with the services and supports necessary for them to make effective progress. Whenever possible children should be with their typical peers and attend their neighborhood schools. They are to be provided with the same curriculum and are required to maintain the same standards for academic requirement. The terms mainstream, integration, and inclusion, are the new catch phrases to define when kids are provided LRE.
There are many placement options, so what does that mean for your child? When you start to talk about placement, the first potential option should always be the class where your child would be if they didn’t have a disability. The team should consider what accommodations, services, and supports your child would need to be successful in that environment and then provide for them on the IEP. If it is determined that your child will not make progress in the regular education classroom, other options can be considered. The goal should always be full inclusion. Inclusion is not a specific place but the pursuit to include students in classrooms and in environments with typical peers to the maximum extent possible through out their school day.
Some students will be provided with what is termed partial inclusion. Perhaps they attend some regular education classes but go into a separate classroom for math or reading. Maybe they attend a resource room or academic support class once a day to assist with all academic subjects. Whatever it looks like, it should provide for the students needs and assist with their effective progress.
Some students will need to be in classrooms with small number of students and specialized teachers. This is a substantially separate setting. The goal should be to transition or integrate out of that classroom and into the regular setting as much as possible. The benefits of socialization and peer interaction experiences in a regular setting have to be balanced with the benefits of academic success and progress in the smaller setting. A lot of IEPs have a mix of both to allow for the unique needs of students with learning disabilities but need social experiences to develop socially.
Out of District
Some students attend school in private schools or collaborative schools that specialize in working with students with specific disabilities or sets of needs. This should always be considered a last resort and only when all other options have been tried and been unsuccessful. It is important to balance the needs for a student to be provided with what they need as well as the opportunities they miss by not being educated in their neighborhood school.