Behavior and Discipline in Special Education: What to do if the School Calls Because of a Behavior Incident

Some disabilities make it difficult for students to manage their behavior in ways that schools expect or require. Sometimes the school calls parents, recommending the student go home. Parents need to know that students have specific rights when they are sent home because of behavior: An official suspension triggers access to disability protections.

For example, schools are responsible to provide behavioral support, sometimes called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), to students with identified behavior disabilities that significantly impact access to learning. Schools also are responsible to evaluate students who may be acting out because of an unidentified disability. Another protection for students with disabilities is a specific due process called Manifestation Determination. A Manifestation Determination Hearing is required if a student with disabilities is excluded from school for 10 or more days because of behavior.

This video provides information about disability protections and what to do if the school is calling to have a student taken home. PAVE has a comprehensive article with additional information: What Parents Need to Know when Disability Impacts Behavior and Discipline at School.

A key federal resource about disability rights related to school discipline was released Jan. 9, 2020: The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in collaboration with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), provides the 46-minute YouTube video: Students with Disabilities and the Use of Restraint and Seclusion in K-12 Public Schools.

Attention Students: Lead your own IEP meetings and take charge of your future

A Brief Overview

  • By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. You can attend any time, and leading your own meeting is a great way to learn important skills.
  • If you need more help at school or aren’t learning what you need to learn, then your IEP might need some fixing. Your voice matters on the IEP team.
  • A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Read on to learn more about the parts of an IEP and how to get more involved in your own education.

Full Article

If you are a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), read this article to find out how you can be a leader on your IEP team. Your future is counting on you!

By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. From that year on, your school program is matched to your long-term goals. It’s important to plan your time carefully so that every school day gets you closer to where you want to be when you are an adult. 

Learn to be a self-advocate

 An advocate (pronounced ad-vo-cut) is someone who asks for something in a public way. Public schools get money from the government, so they are considered public entities. When you ask the school to provide you with something that you need to succeed, then you are being a self-advocate.

The word advocate can also be an action word (a verb), but then it’s pronounced ad-vo-cate (rhymes with date). You advocate for yourself when you ask for what you need to succeed.

Here’s another way to use this hyphenated word: You can say that you “practice self-advocacy.” Leading your own IEP meeting is a great way to practice self-advocacy and develop important adult skills.

Your Transition Plan focuses on where you want to go

 The part of the IEP that focuses on your adult goals is called a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan is added to the IEP by the school year when you turn 16. The plan includes details about:

  • when you plan to graduate (you can stay in school through age 21 if your IEP goals require more time)
  • what jobs you might choose
  • whether college is part of your plans
  • what lifestyle you imagine for yourself (will you drive, cook, shop, live alone?)
  • how school is getting you ready for all of that

The Transition Plan is all about you and your future. You can start taking charge of your future by going to your IEP meetings. You may want to lead all or part of the meeting, and you have that right.

The law says it’s all about you

Your rights as a student with an IEP are part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA says that schools must include family members and students on the IEP team. If you don’t play on the team, you can’t win the game, right? This is more important than a game—it’s Your Life!

The IDEA is a unique law because it says you get what you need in order to access school and learning. Getting an education that is specially designed just for you is called an entitlement. What you are entitled to is called FAPE, which means Free Appropriate Public Education.

You can become a leader on your IEP team by learning more about FAPE and how to talk about what it means to you. Public education is free for all school-age students in the United States, but consider this question: What makes your education appropriate?

Here are some questions to help you think and talk about FAPE:

  • What is it like to have a disability?
  • What about your disability makes school hard?
  • What do you need at school that helps you learn?
  • Are you getting better and better at the skills you need to be good at?
  • Are your teachers helping you see what you do well?

If you are learning important skills at school, and your learning is helping you build on your strengths, then you are probably getting FAPE. If you need more help or aren’t learning the skills that you need to move forward, then your IEP might need some fixing. Keep in mind that the school is responsible to provide you with FAPE. You have the right to ask for FAPE.

Learn what your IEP can do for you

Here’s a starter kit to help you understand what your IEP says and how you can ask for changes. When you go to your IEP meeting, you have the right to ask the teachers and school administrators to help you read and understand your IEP.

These are some important parts of an IEP:

  • Category of Disability: This is on the “cover page” of the IEP document. It lists the type of disability that best describes why you need individualized help at school. You should know this category so you can understand how and why teachers are supposed to help you.
  • The Present Levels of Performance: This is the long section at the beginning of the IEP that describes how you are doing and what the school is helping you work on. The beginning of this section lists what you are good at. Make sure that section is complete so you can be sure the teachers help you build on your strengths.
  • Goals: When you qualified for an IEP, the school did an evaluation. You showed that you needed to learn certain things with instructions designed just for you. To help you learn, the teachers provide Specially Designed Instruction. They keep track of your progress toward specific goals in each area of learning. You can learn what your goals are and help track your progress. A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
  • Accommodations: You can ask for what you need to help you learn in all the different classrooms and places where you spend the school day. Do you learn better if you sit in a specific part of the classroom, for example, or if you have a certain type of chair? Do you need to be able to take breaks? Do you do better on tests if you take them in a small, quiet space instead of the regular classroom? Do you need shorter assignments, so you don’t get overwhelmed? Helping your teachers know how to help you is part of your job as an IEP team member.

Get Ready for Your IEP Meeting

You can get ready for your IEP meeting by looking over the IEP document.  You may want to ask a family member or a teacher to help you read through the document. If you don’t understand what’s in your IEP, plan to ask questions at the meeting.

PAVE provides a worksheet to help you prepare for your meeting. It’s called a Student Input Form. You can use this worksheet to make a handout for the meeting or just to start thinking about things you might want to say. If you don’t want to make a handout, you might draw pictures or make a video to share your ideas.

These sentence starters might help you begin:

  • I enjoy…
  • I learn best when…
  • I’m good at…
  • It’s hard for me when…
  • I want more help in these areas…
  • I like school the most when …
  • Teachers are helpful when they…
  • I want to learn more about …
  • It would be great if…

You may want to think about your disability and how it affects your schoolwork. You could work on a sentence or draw a picture to help the teachers understand something that is hard for you. These might be the parts of a sentence that you can personalize:

  • My disability in the area of …
  • makes school difficult because…

Your handout can include a list of what you want to talk about at the meeting. Here are a few ideas, but your options are unlimited:

  • A favorite class, teacher or subject in school?
  • A time during the school day that is hard for you?
  • Your IEP goals?
  • Something that helps you feel comfortable and do well?
  • Something you want to change in your school schedule or program?
  • Graduation requirements and when you plan to graduate?
  • Your High School and Beyond Plan? (see information below)
  • Anything else that’s important to you?

High School and Beyond Plan

Maybe you started talking about what you might do after graduation when you were in middle school. Washington State public schools are required to help all students begin a High School and Beyond Plan by 8th grade. Ask a teacher, a school counselor and/or your parents if you haven’t started one of those: It’s required so you can graduate from high school.

It’s never too soon to think about what you want to do in the future. When you start building an IEP Transition Plan, it’s critical to think and talk through your ideas and how you see yourself moving forward. Here are some starter questions: 

  1. Where am I now? (strengths, interests, abilities)
  1. Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations)
  1. How do I get there? (goals, courses, activities, helpers, accommodations)

Here are some additional questions to help you plan:

Jobs, Trades, & Work

  • What jobs would be a good fit?
  • What training and/or supports will you need?
  • Does your IEP include community work experience?

Education after high school

  • Do your personal goals include college or technical school?
  • What accommodations will you need?
  • Have you contacted Disability Support Services on campus?

Living arrangements

  • Will you live with family, a friend or on your own?
  • How will you cook, clean, shop, & get around town?
  • Does your IEP have goals for Independent living?

Community experiences

  • What will you do for fun?
  • Will you join a club or support group?
  • How will you make friends and keep in touch?

It’s never too soon to plan ahead!

Setting goals and making some plans now will help your school and family help you make sure you’ve got the right class credits, skills training and support to make that shift out of high school easier.

Being a leader at your IEP meeting is a great way to build skills for self-advocacy and self-determination, which is another great two-part word to learn. Self-determination means you make choices to take control of your life. At your IEP meeting, you can practice describing what helps you or what makes your life hard. You get to talk about what you do well and any projects or ideas that you get excited about. In short, you get to design your education so that it supports your plans to design your own adult life.

Here are links to more ideas and tools to help you get involved in your own future planning:

The Center for Change in Transition Services has a toolkit for youth

Youthhood.org also has resources designed just for you

 

Sample Letter to Request an IEP Meeting

When a student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the school is required to review the program every year. The annual review date is listed on the cover page of the IEP document. Family members/caregivers can request additional meetings, and this article includes a sample letter that families can use to formally request an IEP meeting.

An IEP meeting request letter can be submitted to school staff and to district staff. Family participants have the right to invite guests to the meeting for support and to provide additional expertise about the student. Best practice is for the school and parents to communicate about who will attend the meeting. The school’s meeting invitation will list attendees and can clarify when the meeting will start and end and the purpose or agenda for the meeting. PAVE provides an article about how families can prepare for a meeting by creating a handout for the team.

In accordance with the IDEA and state laws, the IEP team includes an individual who is knowledgeable about district resources. Sometimes a school principal or other staff member fulfills that role. Families or school staff can request attendance by someone who works in the district’s special education department.

The requirement for an annual IEP review is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal law that entitles students with qualifying disabilities to special education services. PAVE has an article that describes key principles of the IDEA. One priority of the IDEA is parent participation, and schools are responsible to invite parents to meetings at which a student’s special education program or placement is discussed. The Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A-03100) provides detail about the requirements for parent participation in IEP process. When a student is 16 and/or postsecondary goals are being discussed, schools are required to invite students to their IEP meetings.

The IDEA requires schools to evaluate special education students every three years to determine whether they continue to qualify for services and whether the IEP needs to be adjusted. PAVE provides an article about evaluation process. Family participants or school staff can request a re-evaluation sooner if there are concerns. PAVE provides an article with a Sample Letter to Request Evaluation.

Parents can request to meet with the IEP team any time of year if they have questions or concerns. Here are a few examples of reasons parents might request an IEP meeting:

  • new diagnosis or information about a student’s disability
  • frequent disciplinary actions
  • academic struggles
  • lack of meaningful progress toward IEP goals
  • behavior plan isn’t working
  • placement isn’t working
  • parent wants to discuss further evaluation by the school or an independent agency

Under the IDEA, family members and/or caregivers who participate on the IEP team have the right to request an IEP meeting any time there are concerns.

For a comprehensive article about the IEP and how to participate on the IEP team, visit PAVE’s article called Get Ready for School with IEP Essentials. PAVE also provides a short video overview of the IEP and an article about SMART goals and progress monitoring.

Below is a sample letter families and caregivers can use when writing a request for an IEP meeting:

Your Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip
Date

Name (if known, otherwise use title only)
Title/Director of Special Education/Program Coordinator
School District
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Dear Name (if known, otherwise use title only):

I am requesting an IEP meeting regarding the program for my (son/daughter), NAME, (BD: 00-00-0000). I have some concerns that I believe need to be addressed by the entire team. I understand that I will be involved in scheduling so that I can participate fully as an equal member of the IEP team and that I will be notified in writing when a meeting is arranged.

My hope is that this meeting will provide an opportunity for collaborative problem solving. I want to make sure (NAME’s) IEP provides enough support for improvement and learning within (her/his) capabilities. I look forward to discussing my specific concerns about: (add specific concerns here).

  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.
  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.
  • Use bullet points if the list becomes long.

I have attached documentation from (list any outside providers who provided letters or reports and highlight any specific recommendations from those attached documents).

I hope that a copy of the IEP draft will be provided to me before our team meeting so that I will have the opportunity to review the document and prepare for the meeting.

I’m also requesting copies of (any other documents you wish to review before the meeting: evaluation reports, teacher progress notes, state curricula…).

I appreciate your help in behalf of my son/daughter. If you have any questions please call me at (telephone number) or email me at (email address, optional).

Sincerely,

Your Name

CC: (Names and titles of anyone else you give copies to)

You can email this letter or send it by certified mail (keep your receipt), or hand carry it to the district office and get a date/time receipt. Remember to keep a copy of this letter and all school-related correspondence for your records. Get organized with a binder or a filing system that will help you keep track of all letters, meetings, conversations, etc. These documents will be important for you and your child for many years to come, including when your child transitions out of school.

Please Note: It is the policy of PAVE to provide support, information, and training for families, professionals, and interested others on a number of topics. In no way do these activities constitute providing legal advice. PAVE is not a legal firm or a legal services agency. This message and accompanying documents are covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2521, and contain information intended for the specified individual(s) only. 

The contents of this document were developed under a grant from the US Department of Education. The contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

 

 

 

IDEA: The Foundation of Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1990 and has been amended. The IDEA provides children with qualifying disabilities, from birth to age 21, with the right to a free public education that is specifically designed to meet their unique, individual needs.

Some important concepts carried over from the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. That was the first United States law that required schools to provide Special Education to all children with disabilities. PAVE has an article about special education history.

This article provides an overview of the IDEA, which is unique as a law that provides an individual entitlement. Entitlement means that a child with unique needs gets those needs served on an individual basis, not based on a system or program that’s already built and available. The strengths and challenges of a specific student are assessed, and a team including family members and professionals works together to design a program.

The local school district is responsible for providing the program—specialized instruction, services, accommodations and anything else that the team has identified as necessary to provide the student with access to an appropriate education.

FAPE is an important acronym to learn!

The first principle of the IDEA is the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, FAPE. Figuring out how to provide FAPE is the work of the school and family team that supports a student with a disability. PAVE provides a video Introduction to Special Education that includes more information about FAPE.

Progress measurements are guaranteed under the IDEA to ensure that the student finds meaningful success, in light of the circumstances of disability. If a neighborhood school cannot provide the services and programming to guarantee FAPE, then the school district is responsible to create a program and placement that does meet the student’s needs. PAVE has an article about the placement decision process.

The federal law drives how states design their own special education policies and procedures. Title 34, Part 104 is the non-discrimination federal statute under the Office for Civil Rights Department of Education. In Washington State, rules for the provision of special education are in Chapter 392-172A of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

The IDEA considers the whole life of a person with a disability

The IDEA is written in three parts: A, B and C. Part A describes the general goals and purpose of the law. The right of a child with disabilities to receive an education that prepares that child for adult life is stated in Part A: ​

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society…

“Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

Part B of the IDEA covers children ages 3 through 21—or until graduation from high school. Students who receive services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP) are covered under Part B. The six principles listed at the end of this article describe IDEA’s Part B protections.

Part C protects children Birth to age 3 who need family support for early learning. ​The disability category of developmental delay overlaps early learning and IEP and can qualify a child for free, family-focused services to age 3 and school-based services through age 8. PAVE has an article about the transition between Part C and Part B services.

To qualify for an IEP, a student meets criteria in one of the IDEA’s 14 disability categories:

  • Autism: A student doesn’t need a medical diagnosis to be evaluated in the area of autism. If features from the autism spectrum of disability may significantly impact access to education, then the school can assess those features to determine eligibility and special education needs.
  • Emotional Disturbance: Anxiety, Depression, Serious Mental Illness and/or behavior disabilities can fall under this category, which Washington schools often refer to as Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD). PAVE has an article about mental health in school.
  • Specific Learning Disability: Issues related to dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia or other learning deficits can be educationally assessed. A formal diagnosis is not required for a student to qualify under this category. A Washington law taking full effect in 2021-22 requires schools to screen for dyslexia: See PAVE’s article about dyslexia.
  • Other Health Impairment: ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome and other medical diagnoses are captured within this broad category, often shorted to OHI or Health-Impaired on the IEP document.
  • Speech/Language Impairment: This category can include expressive and/or receptive language disorders in addition to issues related to diction. Social communication deficits might qualify a student for speech services.
  • Multiple Disabilities: Students with complex medical and learning needs can meet criteria in this category.
  • Intellectual Disability: A student with Down Syndrome or another genetic or cognitive disorder might meet criteria in this category.
  • Orthopedic Impairment: OI refers to physical disabilities that impact access to education.
  • Hearing Impairment: Note this is a separate category from deafness or deaf-blindness, as educational testing and identified needs may differ.
  • Deaf blindness
  • Deafness
  • Visual Impairment/Blindness
  • Traumatic Brain Injury: Brain Injury Alliance of WA is a good place for resources to better understand TBI and how to support a student with medical and educational needs.
  • Developmental Delay (ages 0-8): This category can qualify a child for early learning (Birth-3) services in addition to IEP services through age 8. By age 9, a new evaluation may determine eligibility in another category for IEP services to continue.

Educational evaluations ask 3 key questions

The disability must have an adverse impact on learning. Not every student who has a disability and receives an evaluation will qualify for an IEP. Following procedures described by the IDEA, school districts evaluate students to consider 3 key questions:

  1. Does the student have a disability?
  2. Does the disability adversely impact education?
  3. Does the student need Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)?

When each answer is yes, a student qualifies for services. In each area of eligibility, specialized instruction is recommended to help the student overcome the impact of the disability in order to access FAPE. PAVE provides comprehensive articles about evaluation and IEP process.

IDEA’s Primary Principles:

  1. Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Students with disabilities who need a special kind of teaching or other help have the right to an education that is not only free but also “appropriate,” designed just for them. Under IDEA rules, schools provide special education students with “access to FAPE,” so that’s a common way to talk about whether the student’s program is working.
  2. Appropriate Evaluation: The IDEA requires schools to take a closer look at children with potential disabilities. PAVE has an article about the Child Find Mandate. There are rules about how quickly those evaluations get done. The results provide information that the school and parents use to make decisions about how the child’s education can be improved. See PAVE’s article about evaluation process.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): An IEP is a dynamic program, not a packet of paper. PAVE provides a short video overview of IEP process. The document that describes a student’s special education program is carefully written and needs to be reviewed at least once a year by a team that includes school staff and parents/guardians. Every student on an IEP gets some extra help from teachers, but the rest of the program depends on what a student needs to learn. Learning in school isn’t just academic subjects. Schools also help students learn social and emotional skills and general life skills. By age 16, an IEP includes a plan for life beyond high school, and helping the student make a successful transition into life after high school becomes a primary goal of the IEP.
  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The IDEA says that students should be in class with non-disabled classmates “to the maximum extent appropriate.” That means that regular classrooms and school spaces are first choice as the “least restrictive” places. If the school has provided extra help in the classroom but the special education student still struggles to be successful, then the IEP team considers other options, such as a structured learning classroom. The school explains placement and LRE in writing on the IEP document. PAVE has an article about LRE.
  5. Parent and Student Participation: The IDEA and state regulations about IEP team membership make it clear that parents or legal guardians are equal partners with school staff in making decisions about their student’s education. When the student turns 18, educational decision-making is given to the student. The school does its best to bring parents and students into the meetings, and there are specific rules about how the school provides written records and meeting notices (WAC 392-172A-03100).
  6. Procedural Safeguards: The school provides parents with a written copy of their rights at referral and yearly thereafter. A copy of the procedural safeguards is available online from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the guidance agency for Washington schools. Parents may receive procedural safeguards from the school any time they request them. They also may receive a copy if they file a Citizen Complaint or Due Process. Procedural safeguards are offered when a school removes a student for more than 10 days in a school year as part of a disciplinary action. When parents and schools disagree, these rights describe the actions that a parent can take informally or formally. PAVE provides a webinar called Parents as Partners that describes some of the procedural safeguards and offers communication strategies when parents and schools disagree.

PAVE provides information, resources and, in some circumstances 1:1 support through our Parent Training and Information (PTI) center. To get help, reach out through our Help Request Form or by calling 800-572-7368.

 

Placement in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Encourages Inclusion

A Brief Overview

  • LRE has been an aspect of special education law since 1975, when there was widespread public concern about children with disabilities historically being segregated and denied equitable education.
  • Research shows that children of all abilities learn social skills from one another when they learn side-by-side.
  • Some Washington schools struggle to support access to general education programs and settings for students with disabilities. In 2019, only 56 percent of students with disabilities are included in general education settings for 80-100 percent of the school day.
  • Under federal law, a student is placed in a more restrictive setting when the IEP team agrees that the student needs a different placement for education to be appropriately accessible.
  • Help from a paraeducator might be part of the support services that enable a student to access learning in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). Note that a paraeducator is a service, not a placement. Having a 1:1 to help in the classroom does not violate LRE. This topic was included in the resolution of a 2017 Citizen Complaint. Read on for more detail.

Full Article

Some other articles that might be of interest: 

Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’ to Your Request

Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations

Schools are responsible to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. One of the defining principles of special education law is that students with disabilities have access to general education, with nondisabled peers, to the maximum extent possible. That requirement is called Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

LRE is a key feature of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and has been part of disability rights for students since 1975. PAVE has articles about special education history and key principles of the IDEA. The LRE requirements are a response to widespread public concern about children with disabilities historically being segregated in institutions, separated from peers and removed from neighborhood schools.

A student qualifies for the protections of the IDEA and special education services when a disabling condition severely impacts access to learning and specially designed instruction is needed. An eligible student is entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), delivered through an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The IEP includes specially designed instruction and goal monitoring, supplementary aids and services, accommodations and intentionally chosen spaces to meet the student’s needs. Those thoughtfully chosen spaces are a student’s “placement.” A decision about placement is made after programming decisions are made by the IEP team.

Parents can learn this terminology to help in their advocacy. Here’s a statement that incorporates key terms: Placement in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is part of a school district’s responsibility when providing a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for a student who receives special education services.

General Education is the first LRE option

The general education setting is the first LRE placement option, and how placement is designed is unique to a student’s individualized needs. Research demonstrates that students with disabilities perform better academically and learn social skills when they have access to the general education setting with proper support.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), which provides guidance to schools in Washington State, “The body of research consistently supports the positive link between access to core instruction in general education settings and improved outcomes for students with disabilities.

“Inclusion is the belief and practice that all students have the right to meaningfully access academic and social opportunities in general education settings.” 

Still, some Washington schools struggle to provide meaningful access to general education programs and settings. In 2019, the state reports that only 56 percent of students with disabilities are included in general education settings for 80-100 percent of the school day.

The 2019 Washington Legislature passed House Bill 1109 to provide $25 million in 2020-21 to  implement professional development in support of inclusionary practices, with an emphasis on coaching and mentoring. Information about the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project is available on OSPI’s website.

What the law says

The IDEA states that schools are required to provide FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) “to the maximum extent appropriate.” Each state is required to implement the IDEA. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a website that shares language directly from the federal law. According to Sec. 300.114:

 “Each public agency must ensure that—

  • “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 nondisabled; and
  • “Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

LRE decisions follow a 4-part process

OSPI’s website includes information directed toward parents: “Placement decisions are made by your student’s IEP team after the IEP has been developed. The term “placement” in special education does not necessarily mean the precise physical building or location where your student will be educated. Rather, your student’s “placement” refers to the range or continuum of educational settings available in the district to implement her/his IEP and the overall amount of time s/he will spend in the general education setting.”

Selection of an appropriate placement includes 4 considerations:

  1. IEP content (specialized instruction, goals, services, accommodations…)
  2. LRE requirements (least restrictive “to the maximum extent appropriate”)
  3. The likelihood that the placement option provides a reasonably high probability of helping a student attain goals
  4. Consideration of any potentially harmful effects the placement option might have on the student or the quality of services delivered

What if placement in general education isn’t working?

If a student is unable to access learning in an appropriate way (FAPE) because of the nature or severity of the disability, then the IEP team considers alternative placement options. It’s important to note that a student is placed in a more restrictive setting because the student needs a different location within the school, not because it’s more convenient for adults or because it saves the school district money.

According to IDEA, Sec. 300.114, “A State must not use a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served that will result in the failure to provide a child with a disability FAPE according to the unique needs of the child, as described in the child’s IEP.”

Placement options are vast

IEP teams consider a wide range of placement options. They may discuss whether there’s a need for a small classroom setting, for example, or home-based instruction. For a child with a behavioral health condition, the team may discuss whether a “day treatment” school staffed with specialists in behavior management might provide the best access to FAPE.

The continuum of placement options includes, but is not limited to:

  • general education classes
  • general education classes with support services and/or modifications
  • a combination of general education and special education classes
  • self-contained special education classes
  • placements outside of a school district
  • home instruction
  • residential care or treatment facilities

School districts are not required to have a continuum available in every school building. A school district, for example, might have a self-contained setting or preschool services in some but not all locations. This gives districts some discretion for choosing a location to serve the placement chosen by an IEP team.

Placement and location are different

Note that the IEP team determines the placement, but the school district has discretion to choose a location to serve the IEP.

For example, an IEP team could determine that a student needs a day treatment/behavioral health-focused school in order to access FAPE—an appropriate education. If the IEP team chooses a Day Treatment placement, then the school district is responsible to find a location to provide that placement. Following this process, a public-school district might pay for transportation and tuition to send a student to a private or out-of-district facility. If a request for a specialized placement is initiated by the family, there are other considerations.

OSPI’s website includes this information:

“… if you are requesting that your student be placed in a private school or residential facility because you believe the district is unable to provide FAPE, then you must make that request through a due process hearing.”

Note: Due Process is part of the “procedural safeguards” available to family participants on the IEP team. PAVE has an article and a webinar about options when family members disagree with the school.

1:1 is a service, not a placement

The IDEA specifies that a more restrictive placement relies on data showing that “the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”

Supplementary aids and services can include a wide variety of supports. The student might use assistive technology, for example, or teachers could craft unique ways to present the curriculum. The student may get individualized help from an adult.

The LRE requirement means that schools document efforts to enable a student to access general education, however that might be possible. General education access includes classrooms, programs like PE and art, extracurricular activities, recess…. IEP team members can get creative about how to help the student succeed. Some students design their own clever accommodations. Family members and outside therapists or behavioral specialists also contribute ideas.

A common conflict with families and schools is whether a 1:1 paraeducator might enable access to FAPE in general education. Some parents and schools may have conversations about whether a helper might “restrict” a student’s ability to develop independence. Sometimes those conversations lead to misunderstanding about LRE. A 2017 case in Washington addressed the topic and clarified that a 1:1 is a service, not a placement.

In response to a Citizen Complaint filed by parents in the Lake Washington School District, OSPI issued a public report,  with a finding in favor of the family. The parents wanted their child to get help from a 1:1 aide and disagreed with the school that it would “restrict” the student. According to OSPI’s report, parents had requested a 1:1 aide because they wanted the school to provide more support in order to increase the student’s time in general education. School staff on the IEP team said no to the request, citing a belief that a 1:1 aide “is the most restrictive level of service…”

OSPI rejected that argument, stating:

“The District is incorrect in its belief that 1:1 paraeducator support is the most restrictive environment for all students. Paraeducator support is a supplementary aid and service, not a placement option on the continuum of alternative placements….

“Based on the documentation in this complaint, the District did not base its decision to deny the Parent’s request for 1:1 aide support on the Student’s individualized needs. The District erred in failing to properly consider if the Student could participate in a general education setting with the provision of 1:1 aide support.”

LRE does not mean students are on their own

The conversation about what creates “restriction” is complex, and sometimes school staff bring up the concept of “learned helplessness” if they believe that children learn better with less instead of more support. Each conversation and circumstance is unique, but parents can research the topic of learned helplessness to understand various ways that data are interpreted to generate opinions.

Generally, when someone receives help–including education provided by a teacher or a teacher’s aide–that person learns how to do something and eventually models what is taught, with mastery over time. Revoking help before a person is ready to do something independently may create a help”less” situation. A person who cannot perform a task with success and doesn’t get the needed help to get better at the skill may over time give up and become helpless. Some articles on the subject relate to individuals who have been unable to cope or problem-solve independently and therefore “learn” to be helpless.

Parents talking with the school about LRE and appropriate support can do their best to provide accurate and comprehensive information about a student’s unique disability condition and what is needed to meet the student where he/she is ready to learn.

Following are a few additional resources:

An agency called Teaching Exceptional Children Plus features an article by a parent about the value of inclusion in general education. The January 2009 article by Beth L. Sweden is available for download online: Signs of an Inclusive School: A Parent’s Perspective on the Meaning and Value of Authentic Inclusion.

Understood.org offers an article and a video about the benefits of inclusion.

An agency that promotes best-practice strategies for school staff implementing inclusive educational programming is the IRIS Center, a part of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Some other articles that might be of interest: 

Evaluations Part 2: Next Steps if the School Says ‘No’ to Your Request

Section 504: A Plan for Equity, Access and Accommodations