The term Least Restrictive Environment is thrown around a lot in special education but what does it really mean.
There is the legal definition which states:
“In General. To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” 20 U.S.C § 1412(a)(5)(A).
This sounds great and unlike other parts of IDEA which only requires appropriateness this definition requires the best placement. Then why are there still so many disagreements over placements and how does an IEP team decide which placement is correct for a child with a disability? The 9th Circuit Court had just this dilemma and created a least restrictive environment test using the four following factors:
What is the educational benefit of a general education classroom to the child;
What is the non-academic benefits (social, emotional, etc.) of a general education classroom to the child;
What is the effect on the teacher and other students; and
What is the cost of mainstreaming the child
Practically speaking, placement decisions are one of the most difficult aspects of the IEP. The right placement depends on the child, teacher, peers, school, classroom, performance levels, social emotional levels, aids, supports, and goals. The most effective IEP teams will have an in depth conversation about all of these items before deciding placement. Then a potential educational placement can be determined. The list below shows potential placements from least restrictive to most restrictive environment:
1. General Education (Only accommodations no additional services) - Students with disabilities are educated with students without disabilities, to the maximum extent possible.
2. General Education (push in services) - Is a collaborative teaching model; the Resource Specialist or other therapists provides assistance to students who require help accessing the curriculum in the general education classroom.
3. Resource Specialist (pull out services) - Students are pulled out of the general education classroom by the Resource Specialist to receive academic instruction in a small group.
4. Special Day Class - Is an intensive educational program designed for students who have special needs such as Autism, Learning Disabilities or Mental Health issues when they cannot be appropriately educated in a general education environment. The types of classes available usually include mild, moderate or severe.
5. Non-Public School - An elementary or secondary school within the state, other than a public school, offering education for grades kindergarten through 12, or any combination of thereof, wherein any child may legally fulfill compulsory school attendance requirements. Placement in Non-Public Schools occurs via an IEP when the public school is not able to fulfill its requirements to provide a free appropriate public education. Many Nonpublic schools specialize in Autism, Learning Disabilities and other special needs.
6. Day Treatment Center - A program designed to address a student’s Mental Health and Educational needs during the school day only. It usually refers to a licensed or certified facility which is licensed to provide a behavioral health treatment program, outpatient care, and treatment of mental or nervous disorders under the supervision of physicians.
7. Residential Treatment Center - A program designed for a student who suffers from Severe or Chronic Emotional Disabilities in a residential setting. Residential treatment centers generally are clinically focused and primarily provide behavior management and treatment for adolescents with serious issues.
8. Home and Hospital Instruction Program- Home and Hospital Instruction Programs serve students who have a disability, which makes attendance in the regular day classes or alternative education program impossible or inadvisable. The district in which the home or residential health facility is located is responsible for instructing and educating pupils who must be hospitalized or remain at home due to disability issues.
Sometimes disagreements are inevitable and if the School District wants to make a placement change that the parents disagree with the District must take the parents to a due process hearing. The School District will need to prove they have made every effort to accommodate that child before going in front of a hearing officer.
Originally published May 2010