The terms least restrictive environment, inclusion, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably. They are not, however, synonymous concepts. Least restrictive environment refers to the IDEA’s mandate that students with disabilities should be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with peers without disabilities. The LRE mandate ensures that schools educate students with disabilities in integrated settings, alongside students with and without disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate. Least restrictive environment is not a particular setting.
The general education environment is considered the least restrictive setting because it is the placement in which there is the greatest measure of opportunity for proximity and communication with the “ordinary flow” of students in schools.
If your child is eligible for special education services, you may worry he’ll be placed in a different classroom than other kids his age. But most kids might be place in classrooms that are known as inclusion (or inclusive) classrooms.
In an inclusion classroom, the general and special education teachers work together to meet your child’s needs.
This is key. As Carl A. Cohn, Ed.D., executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, points out, “It’s important for parents to realize that special education students are first and foremost general education students.”
Many schools have inclusion classrooms. In part, that’s because the IDEA says that kids who receive special education services should learn in what’s called the “Least Restrictive Environment” (LRE). That means they should spend as much time as possible with students who don’t receive special education services.
An inadequate IEP will make it difficult to consider any child’s placement in an organized way. To assist schools and parents, the department has developed and widely distributed a model form that addresses all the required IEP components.
Next, each placement option is examined not only as it currently exists, but also as it might be modified. Then, each educational placement option is examined in sequence from least restrictive to most restrictive.
The IDEA regulations put an emphasis on students being served at their home campus. Courts, hearing officers, and the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) have allowed schools to place some groups of students with disabilities on one or more campuses with non-disabled students rather than on every campus.
However, the law and regulations put a priority on the concept of students being educated with their peers and in the general education classroom to the extent possible. There also must be a “continuum of alternative placements” within the school. Also a child with a disability is not to be “removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.”
Parents should ask for the rationale for this practice and if exceptions are made and under what circumstances. Chances are the district has made exceptions for specific students. The parent could then discuss at least an exception for part of the day. Placement decisions are to be individualized and should be reviewed periodically. One size fits all models are not individualized. Circumstances/needs could have changed so that the student could be returned to the home campus at least part of the day.
According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Accessible Content from the 2016 Nonpublic Day and Residential PowerPoint and document, “A nonpublic school placement is the placement of a student by a district, at district cost, into a private setting to receive special education and related services that the district is unable to provide for the student while still providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE).”
Facts about Nonpublic School Placements
TEA must approve the educational program of all sites that districts choose to place students to ensure that each meet both federal and state special education program requirements. The legal responsibility for providing appropriate education services to a student remains with the sending district. All service providers at the nonpublic school must be appropriately certified and/or licensed. Before entering into a contract with a facility, an ARD committee must be convened to develop an IEP for the student. A representative of the nonpublic school must participate in the meeting.