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

 

Get Ready for School with IEP Essentials

A Brief Overview

Each student has abilities and skills. A thoughtful Individualized Education Program (IEP) can highlight abilities and provides the supports needed for the student to learn. This article will help parents understand how to participate in the IEP process.

Every part of the IEP is measured against this question: How does this help the student with disabilities receive the support needed to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)? Read on to learn more about FAPE and other important parts of special education.

Learn the 5 steps a parent can take as a member of the IEP team. This article will help you gear up for the school year.

The Parent Training and Information (PTI) team at PAVE are here to help: If you need 1:1 help navigating the IEP process, click Get Help! on our website, wapave.org.

Full Article

A new school year is a great time to take a fresh look at your student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). If your student doesn’t have an IEP and you wonder if a disability might be impacting your student’s learning, this is a good time to learn about the special education process. This article will help you learn the basics. You can also read PAVE’s article about Evaluation, the first step in the IEP process.

As you and your student get ready for school, the most important thing is the “I” in IEP. The “I” is for “Individualized,” so no two IEPs are the same! Your student has abilities and skills. A thoughtful IEP highlights abilities and helps your student access the supports needed to learn. With an IEP, a student with disabilities can make meaningful progress in school.  It also prepares your student for life after high school. An IEP is a team effort, and parents and students who learn about the process and fully participate get on a path for success.

FAPE is an acronym you want to know

When Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, special education got its most important acronym: FAPE. FAPE stands for Free Appropriate Public Education. The right to FAPE makes the IDEA law unique: It is the only law in the United States that provides an individual person with the right to a program or service that is designed just for that person. This is called an entitlement.

Entitlement means that a student with disabilities is served on an individual basis, not based on a system or program that’s already built and available.

When schools and parents talk about a special education program, they talk about the services and instruction that a student needs to learn in school. Every part of the IEP is measured against this question: How does this help the student receive the support needed to access a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)?

Education is a civil right. Students have the right to access a free, public education through the age of 21. Students with disabilities identified through an evaluation process qualify for FAPE. Let’s take a closer look at the second word in FAPE: Appropriate. When an education is “appropriate,” it is designed to fit a specific student. Like a custom-made garment, it fits the learning style, capacity and specific needs of the student without any gaps.

The IDEA is based on an earlier law: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This federal law was the first one that required schools to create specific educational plans for students with disabilities. In 1972 a Washington, D.C., court said that education should be free and “suitable” for all children of school age, regardless of disability or impairment.

Parents can keep this in mind when they read through the IEP or when they prepare for IEP meetings. They can ask, Is the program or service suitable and appropriate, given my student’s abilities and circumstances?  

To qualify for an IEP a student is evaluated to see if there is a disability that is causing an adverse educational impact. The educational evaluation may show that the student has a disability that matches at least one of the 14 categories that are listed in the IDEA. Those categories are:

Autism

Deaf-blindness

Deafness

Emotional Disturbance

Hearing Impairment

Intellectual Disability

Multiple Disabilities

Orthopedic Impairment

Other Health Impairment

Specific Learning Disability

Speech/Language Impairment

Traumatic Brain Injury

Visual Impairment/Blindness

Developmental Delay (ages 0-8)

 

If the student, with parent input, is determined to “meet criteria” under the IDEA, then that student is eligible for special education services. Special education is a service, not a place.

Current federal law includes six important principles

The IDEA, which has been amended a few times since 1990, includes some important elements for  parents. Here’s a brief overview:

  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 designed just for them.
  2. Appropriate Evaluation: The IDEA requires schools to take a closer look at students with suspected disabilities. That part of the law is called 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 student’s education can be improved.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): The IEP is an active program, not a stack of papers. The document that describes a student’s special education program is carefully written and is reviewed at least once a year by a team. This team includes school staff and parents/guardians and the student, when appropriate. Learning in school isn’t just academic subjects. Schools also help students learn social and emotional skills and general life skills. Every student has access to a High School and Beyond Plan by age 12 or 13. By age 16, an IEP includes a transition plan for life beyond high school. This helps the student make a successful transition into adulthood and is the 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.
  5. Parent and Student Participation: The IDEA makes 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.
  6. Procedural Safeguards: The school provides parents with a written copy of their rights at referral and yearly thereafter. Parents may receive procedural safeguards any time they request them. They may also receive procedural safeguards the first time they file a citizen’s request in a school year or when they file for due process. Procedural safeguards are offered when a decision is made to remove 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.

Ready, set, go! 5 steps for parents to participate in the IEP process

Understanding the laws and principles of special education can help parents get ready to dive into the details of how to participate on IEP teams. Getting organized with school work, contacts, calendar details and concerns and questions will help. Here’s the basic 5-step process:

  1. Schedule

    Evaluation is the testing that a school completes to determine if a student meets the requirements for an IEP. A teacher, administrator or parent can refer a student for an educational evaluation. If the student has never had an IEP and the parent is making the request, here are a few tips:  Make the request in writing, and know your rights if the school’s answer is no. PAVE provides a sample letter that anyone can use. You can request information and help at wapave.org

    Once testing is complete, the school schedules a meeting to discuss the results and whether a team will move forward in developing an IEP. ​Parents get a written invitation to the meeting. If the date and time don’t work, keep in mind that parents are required members of the IEP team. The school and family agree on a time, and schools document efforts to include parents at all IEP team meetings. You can ask ahead for the agenda to make sure there’s going to be enough time for the topics being discussed.

    The school’s invitation lists who’s going to be there. The team could be very large or very small depending on the needs of the student and the professionals involved. ​Team members include: ​

  • A parent or legal guardian​
  • A District Representative. A school administrator can fill this role, so this person might be a staff member from the district special services office, a principal, a dean or a building administrator. This person needs to know district policies and should have some power to make decisions and implement team recommendations.  ​
  • Experts to explain the testing results. This could be a school psychologist or a specialist such as a physical therapist, occupational therapist, Applied Behavior Analyst (ABA), a nurse, etc.
  • Any individuals with knowledge or expertise invited by the school, the student or family. Therapists, counselors, extended family and friends sometimes attend. ​
  • The student. Self-advocacy is important at all ages, but youth making after-high-school plans are especially encouraged to attend, participate or even lead their own meetings. Many parents bring out photographs of their student to place on the table during the discussion. Don’t be afraid to get creative to make sure that the “I” isn’t left out of IEP! ​

    If your student already has an IEP, a re-evaluation occurs at least once every three years unless the team decides differently. A parent can ask for a re-evaluation for different reasons. Usually, a re-evaluation will not occur more than once a year.

  1. Prepare

    Confirm the time and location for the meeting and read the attendance list. If a key member of the team is going to miss the meeting, you will have to sign consent to excuse that person. Ask to reschedule if you aren’t okay with that person being gone.

    You can ask for a copy of the evaluation results or a draft copy of the IEP before the meeting to help you get ready. You can collect letters or important documents from medical professionals or other providers to help you explain something that’s concerning you. You may write a short list of questions, so you don’t forget to ask something important during the meeting. Another option is to make a list of your student’s strengths and talents, to make sure that the school’s program builds on what already works. You can write a letter of concern and ask for it to be attached to the IEP document. Consider inviting someone to come with you, to take notes and help you stay focused. 

  2. Learn

    Knowing the technical parts of an IEP will help you understand what’s happening at the meeting. Remember that the IEP is a living program, not a document. The document that gets drafted, revised and agreed upon does the best job that it can to describe the positions and intentions of the IEP team. The document is a reference guide for the real-time programming that a student receives at school each day. The IEP is a work-in-progress, and the document can be changed as many times as needed to get it right and help everyone stay on track.

    This list includes the technical elements of an IEP:

  • Present Levels of Performance, statements that describe how a student is doing in academics, and can include Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and everyday life skills
  • Educational Impact Statement, describing the disability and its impact on learning
  • Annual Goals, including academic, social, emotional and functional goals. Goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). The IEP provides a specific way to check on progress.
  • Assessments: state testing scores, upcoming testing schedules and accommodations for access to the tests
  • Program, Placement, Related Services and Supplementary Aids. Special ways of teaching a student are always included in an IEP. How that instruction and the rest of services get delivered is different in every situation and requires collaboration and creativity.
  • Scheduling Details: time, duration and location for all special education programs
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Schools explain how much time a student spends in special settings instead of regular settings with general education students. A chart or “service matrix” on the IEP document shows how much time a student spends in each location. This section also describes how the placement meets the LRE requirement “to the maximum extent appropriate.”
  • Extracurriculars and other nonacademic activities and how they are accommodated
  • Extended School Year (ESY), if the IEP team believes it is necessary.
  • Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), as needed, based on a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and recommendations from professionals who work with the student
  • Transition Plan (required on an IEP at age 16). This can be key to a young person’s future, and families and students need to participate fully. Sometimes counselors from the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) or another agency interview the student or even come to the IEP meeting to help.
  • Age of Majority statement and plan for the transfer of rights to the student unless parents have guardianship when a student is 18
  1. Attend

At the meeting, each person should be introduced and listed on the sign-in sheet. Schools generally assign a staff member as the IEP case manager, and that person usually organizes the team meeting. Any documents that you see for the first time are draft documents for everyone to work on. Remember that everyone at the table has an equal voice, including you!

Having a photo of a student who isn’t attending in the center of the table might help remind the team to keep conversations student-centered. Parents can help to make sure the focus stays on the needs, goals, strengths and interests of their student.

One key topic for discussion might be about the goals and how they are written. The acronym SMART can help the team make sure goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. Ask how the school is going to keep track of progress. Decide as a team how often you would like progress reports.

You may discuss placement–where the school day will happen. Families and schools talk about how much time a student is spending in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  Remember that LRE is one of the IDEA’s primary principles. Your opinion in this important conversation about inclusion matters! If your student is not participating with non-disabled peers in academic or extracurricular areas, ask for the reasons in writing.

At the meeting, behavior gets talked about if it’s getting in the way of a student’s ability to learn in school. You can request a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) so the IEP team can develop a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) to support the student. The U.S. Office of Special Education Programs has a document called a Dear Colleague Letter that describes the school’s obligations to provide behavior supports when they are needed. That document includes this statement:

“Parents may want to request an IEP team meeting following disciplinary removal or changes in the student’s behavior that impede the student’s learning or that of others, as these likely indicate that the IEP may not be properly addressing the student’s behavioral needs or is not being properly implemented.”

Specific goals for Social Emotional Learning and self-regulation strategies may be needed for appropriate and meaningful access to education. For more ideas, read PAVE’s article series about Social Emotional Learning

Here’s a list of other topics you may want to consider:

  • Modifications your student may need in class or for fire drills, lunch or recess support, walking to/from classes, etc.
  • Accommodations your student will need in class or for testing, such as earphones or a specific seat
  • Long-term goals: An IEP must include transition goals by age 16, and all Washington schools start Life After High School planning in middle school.
  • Extended time over breaks in the school year: Consider how your student might have a pattern of losing and regaining skills or information over extended breaks from school. You also might want to consider if your student is showing signs of emerging skills that potentially could be lost if an extended break from school happens.

Writing down how you plan to communicate with the school can help you participate in the IEP process. Your plan can be written into the IEP during your meeting. This is an individual education program and the team can agree on what is needed for everyone to work together for success. ​Here are a few ideas for ongoing communication with the school: ​

  • A journal that your student carries home in a backpack​
  • A regular email report from the Special Education teacher​
  • A scheduled phone call with the school​
  • A progress report with a specific sharing plan decided by the team​
  • Get creative to make a plan that works for the whole team! ​

During your meeting, ask questions if you don’t understand something. If it is said in the meeting, it can also be put into writing. For example: “The district doesn’t have the funding to offer that.” You can choose to respond, “Please put that in writing.” Any decisions that impact your student’s education or changes to your student’s IEP must be written down in a form called the “Prior Written Notice.” It is like a thank-you note sent after a party. The note states what happened, why it happened and who participated in the event.

​5. Follow up

Your meeting may resolve your concerns. If it doesn’t, consider adding notes to the signature page. You can ask for a follow-up meeting or write a letter to be attached to the IEP document. Make sure to follow through with whatever communication plan the team agreed to. The IEP team reviews the program at least once a year but can meet and change the program more often, if needed.

This article began with a brief history of special education law. Parents have played an important role in that history, and they continue to impact the way that special education is provided in the schools. A recent court case that started in Colorado went all the way to the Supreme Court. That case, referred to as Endrew F, raised some standards related to the IEP. PAVE published an article on Endrew F that includes resource links and tips for using language from that court ruling to help in the IEP process.

If all of this sounds a little overwhelming, you can break the work into steps. Figure out the best way to help your family stay organized with paperwork and information. Choose a calendar system that helps you track appointments and deadlines. Collect and mark the dates for major school events, such as back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences.

You can choose to print this article and highlight the sections you want to remember. Tuck the pages into your notebook or file folder, with the most recent copy of the IEP.

Talking about the upcoming year with your student can help to reduce worries.  Talk about new activities, classmates and things that will be the same or familiar. Find out if your school has an open house, and plan to attend. At your visit, talk about the school with your student.  What do they like or not like?  What’s new or different? What questions do they have?  Take pictures during your tour, and you can review them in the days right before school starts.

Try to meet with your student’s teachers and other school helpers, including therapists or even the bus driver, if possible. Helping your student to establish relationships early can ease worries and help the school team know what makes your student unique and awesome. Share a simple “quick reference” version of the IEP or Behavior Plan, if available.  You can also write your own simple list of suggestions for success.

From all of us at PAVE, we wish you a happy and successful school year!

Resources for more information:

Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) Special Education Resource Library

Open Doors for Multicultural Families: Resources

Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR/Parent Center Hub)

Wrightslaw: Tips for Using the IDEA to improve your student’s IEP

Regulations governing the development and content of an IEP are contained in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, Public Law 108-446), and in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC 392-172A).

 

 

Inclusion Vs. Self-Contained Opportunities for Students in School

Debate continues even today on whether students should be educated in inclusive programs or self-contained programs.

When looking at the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law never uses the word “inclusion,” instead the law refers to “Least Restrictive Environment” or LRE.

For some students LRE cannot be achieved in a fully “inclusive” classroom. There are a number of reasons based on the individual needs of the child.  For instance, in a fully inclusive classroom the level of stimulation may be too high, the classroom size may limit the student’s ability to gain the knowledge they need or there are language barriers.  If a student is deaf and uses sign language, for example, the inclusive class may not have the ability to allow the student to “communicate with their peers in their language or mode of communication.”* However, opportunities for people with disabilities to be educated with their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent “appropriate” for the student with the disability is an essential part of the law. There is the expectation that the student with disabilities is a general education student first. Therefore, removal from the general education environment should only occur when it is determined that even with appropriate aids and services the student will not benefit.

So how is all of this decided and is there a blanket process? The answer is no. Each child’s program and services must be decided on an individual basis. The decision is not “one size fits all’ nor is it a decision that is only made once and then continued for the rest of the student’s educational career. The IEP (Individualized Education Program) Team must consider the student’s placement each year as they review the IEP and develop the new goals. Only after the goals have been created should placement be discussed. Placement does not drive services, but services drive placement options. This means that the parent needs to be a large part of the team discussions and, as appropriate, so should the student. The IEP team should consider the many factors that can have an impact on the quality of the education the student will receive.

To address these different factors the IEP team may wish to consider the following questions:

If the student is going to be in an inclusive class setting:

  • Is the learning environment able to support the child’s academic needs? For some students, the need for more specialized instruction may make learning in the inclusive environment more difficult unless supports are put in place to assist in that instruction.
  • Can the child sustain attention among the 25 to 30 students in the classroom? Classes can be large, especially as students get older, and such increases in student count can cause some students to become anxious or to lose the ability to stay focused. The need for accommodations, such as sitting at the front of the classroom or wearing earplugs, may be needed to support the student.
  • What are some of the unwritten “social skills” that a student is expected to follow and how will the learning of social cues be provided? Social skills are an area that has long been challenging for some people with disabilities. If they have not had the opportunity to learn the social cues they are at a disadvantage that can cause difficulties in learning. Some have the opinion that social cues and social skills need to be a part of the learning environment, not just for students with disabilities, but for all the students.
  • What opportunities will be made possible for the child to display their newly learned skills in different settings or with different people? Studies show that until a skill can be demonstrated in more than one setting, it is not truly learned. Therefore, when considering the inclusive environment, opportunities to demonstrate new skills should be available in different settings.
  • How will the team know if the child is gaining the needed skills outlined in the IEP? Measurable goals require the ability to show data and track progress. When considering goals in an inclusive setting the data collection should not be overlooked. The goals need to be well defined and the tracking needs to be done on a consistent basis using measurements that are understood by all.

If the team is considering a self-contained environment they may wish to consider the following questions:

  • Is the learning environment able to support the child’s academic needs?Research has shown that students who are educated in separate settings from those of their peers without disabilities, have greater learning gaps as they get older. The expectation for learning can be decreased because the student is not challenged at the same level that their peers in the general education setting might be. So, it is important to consider whether the child is being appropriately challenged academically. The team may want to look at the learning objectives for all students of that age or grade and then consider how they can adapt or address those learning objectives in a manner that will support the student.
  • Is the teacher able to address the varied needs of the all the students in the classroom? Many times, a self-contained setting will have students with a wide-range of ages and learning needs. While in an inclusive classroom students will have varied learning styles and skills, the expectation is that the students will all receive instruction in a universal manner that addresses those different learning styles. In the self-contained setting there is still the need for the learning strategies to be universal in their design to provide the greatest opportunity for the student to gain the expected skill.
  • Is there ample opportunity for the student to practice the new skills they have learned? Just as in the inclusive setting, students need the opportunity to test their knowledge and skills with different people and in different environments. If the self-contained setting does not provide for opportunities to test these new skills, it may limit the child’s learning.

The options are there for parents to consider. The questions and how they are answered may help determine the approach that is used to support the student. Remember, that while students with disabilities are to be considered general education students first, it doesn’t mean that the need to look at the full range of placement options shouldn’t occur. The decisions will be made by the team with the expectation that all decisions are based on what is appropriate for that student at that time.

Websites used for this article:

Inclusion vs. Self- Contained Education for Children with ASD Diagnoses

Mainstreaming and Inclusion Vs. Self Contained Classrooms: https://prezi.com/4-eoazdwxtey/mainstreaming-and-inclusion-vs-self-contained-classrooms-for-special-needs-education/

Wisconsin Education Association Council: http://weac.org/articles/specialedinc/

IDEA – http://idea.ed.gov/explore/view