Placement: Deciding Where a Student Spends the School Day

Where and when a student goes to school is called the placement. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes how much time a student spends in different settings. It also includes a statement about how much time the student spends with non-disabled students.

The IEP Team, including the parent, makes decisions about placement after talking about the student’s needs and goals from the IEP. The placement decision happens after the team has looked at the strengths, needs and goals for the student.

The IEP team chooses a placement that team members believe will meet the needs and goals for the student.

The IEP document usually includes a table or chart, called the “Service Matrix.” This shows where a student spends different parts of the day, who is providing the teaching or service, and the timing. The district includes parents in any decisions about placement. 

Placement discussions can get tricky.  Schools and families sometimes think outside the box to come up with the best fit. Placement options might include:

  • general education classes
  • general classes with support services and/or modifications
  • self-contained special education classes
  • a private school with a program or teaching style that meets a specific need
  • education provided at home
  • online school
  • residential care
  • a treatment facility
  • any combination of the above

School districts are required to provide a placement to meet the needs of a student with an IEP. Districts are not required to offer every program or service in every school building. For example, a district might have a self-contained preschool classroom in one but not every elementary-school building. A student who needs that setting to succeed might get bused to a different neighborhood school.

Placement decisions have requirements. Federal laws that govern special education are included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A major principle of the IDEA is that students with disabilities are educated with non-disabled students “to the maximum extent appropriate.”  This principle is called the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). ​

To meet the LRE requirement, schools need to explain in writing why a more restrictive setting is required to meet the needs of the student.  

Parents have a lot to contribute about the strengths and needs of their student. This is important information for any placement decision.

In Washington State, all public schools are overseen by the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction. OSPI requires that schools and IEP teams consider the following when making placement decisions:

  1. The content of the student’s IEP
  2. The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  3. The likelihood that the placement will provide a reasonably high probability of helping the student attain annual goals
  4. The consideration of any potential harmful effects that the placement option might have on the student or the quality of services needed.

Parents review the placement decision as part of the IEP team to make sure all four factors are considered. This can include a review of the accommodations, services, supports and specialized instruction needs so the student can succeed in multiple settings.  

A conversation about placement can happen anytime a parent or school staff member has a question about whether the placement is working. ​Sometimes families disagree with the student’s placement. Sometimes families believe that the school is not following the placement outlined by the IEP. A parent can always call an IEP meeting to discuss concerns. Teams work together to address concerns raised by any member of the team, which includes the parent.

The IDEA provides parents with ways to formally dispute any action by the school. ​These are called dispute resolution options. ​There are also alternative dispute resolution options available. OSPI provides detail about these options on its website. ​ PAVE can help you understand different options.  

Here are some websites to visit for more information about placement:   

OSPI: www.k12.wa.us

Center for Parent Information and Resources: Parent Center Hub article on Placement and LRE