Special Education is a Service, Not a Place

A Brief Overview

  • A student with a disability has the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). General education spaces and curriculum are LRE.
  • Services are generally portable, and special education is delivered to the student to enable access to FAPE within the LRE to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Federal law protects a student’s right to FAPE within the LRE in light of a child’s circumstances, not for convenience of resource allocation.
  • The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource for families and schools writing IEPs to support students within general education: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.

Full Article

An ill-informed conversation about special education might go something like this:

  • Is your child in special education?
  • Yes.
  • Oh, so your student goes to school in that special classroom, by the office…in the portable…at the end of the hall…in a segregated room?

This conversation includes errors in understanding about what special education is, how it is delivered, and a student’s right to be included with general education peers whenever and wherever possible.

This article intends to clear up confusion. An important concept to understand is in the headline:

Special Education is a service, not a place!

Services are portable, so special education is delivered to the student in the placement that works for the student to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), in light of the child’s circumstances. A student with a disability has the right to FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

General education is the Least Restrictive Environment. An alternative placement is discussed by the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team if access to FAPE is not working for the student in a general education setting with supplementary aids and supports.

Keep in mind that genuine inclusion doesn’t just meet a seat in the classroom. Adult support, adaptations to the learning materials, individualized instruction, and more are provided to support access to education within the LRE.

Here is some vocabulary to further understanding:

  • FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. The entitlement of a student who is eligible for special education services.
  • IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The entitlement to FAPE is protected by this law that allocates federal funds to support eligible students.
  • LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. A student eligible for special education services has a right to FAPE in the LRE to the maximum extent appropriate. General education is the least restrictive, and an alternative placement is discussed when data indicate that supplementary aids and supports are not working to enable access to FAPE in general education.
  • IEP: Individualized Education Program. School staff and family caregivers make up an IEP team. The team is responsible to develop a program reasonably calculated to enable a student to make progress appropriate toward IEP goals and on grade-level curriculum, in light of the child’s circumstances. Based on a student’s strengths and needs (discovered through evaluation, observation, and review of data), the team collaborates to decide what services enable FAPE and how to deliver those services. Where services are delivered is the last part of the IEP process, and decisions are made by all team members, unless family caregivers choose to excuse some participants or waive the right to a full team process.
  • Equity: When access is achieved with supports so the person with a disability has a more level or fair opportunity to benefit from the building, service, or program. For example, a student in a wheelchair can access a school with stairs if there is also a ramp. A person with a behavioral health condition might need a unique type of “ramp” to access equitable learning opportunities within general education.
  • Inclusion: When people of all abilities experience an opportunity together, and individuals with disabilities have supports they need to be contributing participants and to receive equal benefit. Although IDEA does not explicitly demand inclusion, the requirement for FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment is how inclusion is built into special education process.
  • Placement: Where a student learns. Because the IDEA requires LRE, an IEP team considers equity and inclusion in discussions about where a student receives education. General education placement is the Least Restrictive Environment. An IEP team considers ways to offer supplementary aids and supports to enable access to LRE. If interventions fail to meet the student’s needs, the IEP team considers a continuum of placement alternatives—special education classrooms, alternative schools, home-bound instruction, day treatment, residential placement, or an alternative that is uniquely designed. 
  • Supplementary Aids and Supports: The help and productivity enhancers a student needs. Under the IDEA, a student’s unique program and services are intended to enable access to FAPE within LRE. Note that an aid or a support is not a place and therefore cannot be considered as an aspect of a restrictive placement. To the contrary, having additional adult support might enable access to LRE. This topic was included in the resolution of a 2017 Citizen Complaint in Washington State. In its decision, OSPI stated that “paraeducator support is a supplementary aid and service, not a placement option on the continuum of alternative placements.”

Note that the IDEA protects a student’s right to FAPE within LRE in light of a child’s circumstances, not in light of the most convenient way to organize school district resources. Placement is individualized to support a student’s strengths and abilities as well as the needs that are based in disability.

Tip: Families can remind the IEP team to Presume Competence and to boost a student from that position of faith. If the team presumes that a student can be competent in general education, how does it impact the team’s conversation about access to FAPE and placement?

LRE does not mean students with disabilities are on their own

To deliver FAPE, a school district provides lessons uniquely designed to address a student’s strengths and struggles (Specially Designed Instruction/SDI). In addition, the IEP team is responsible to design individualized accommodations and modifications. (Links in this paragraph take you to three PAVE training videos on these topics.)

  • Accommodations: Productivity enhancers. Examples: adjusted time to complete a task, assistive technology, a different mode for tracking an assignment or schedule, accessible reading materials with text-to-speech or videos embedded with sign language…
  • Modifications: Changes to a requirement. Examples: an alternative test, fewer problems on a worksheet, credit for a video presentation or vision board instead of a term paper.

Note that accommodations and modifications are not “special favors.” Utilizing these is an exercise of civil rights that are protected by anti-discrimination laws that include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (particularly Section 504 as it relates to school) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA—particularly Title II).

Related Services may support LRE and other aspects of equitable access

An IEP may include related services (occupational therapy, speech, nursing, behavioral or mental health support, parent training, transportation, and more). For some students, related services may be part of the support structure to enable inclusion in the Least Restrictive Environment. If an IEP includes related services, then the IEP team discusses how and where they are delivered.

A tool to support inclusion

The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource to support families and schools in writing IEPs that support students within general education classrooms: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.

The resource includes a variety of tools and recommendations for how school and family teams can approach their meetings and conversations to support the creation and provision of a program that recognizes:

  • Each child is a general education student. 
  • The general education curriculum and routines and the Individual Education Program (IEP) comprise a student’s full educational program.
  • The IEP for a student qualifying for special education services is not the student’s curriculum.

Who is required on an IEP team?

Keep in mind that IEP teams are required to include staff from general education and special education (WAC 392-172A-03095). All team members are required for formal meetings unless the family signs consent for those absences. Here’s a key statement from the TIES Center resource:

“The IEP is intended to support a student’s progress in general education curriculum and routines, as well as other essential skills that support a student’s independence or interdependence across school, home, and other community environments.  A comprehensive inclusive education program based upon these principles is important because without that focus, a student’s learning opportunities and school and post-school outcomes are diminished. In order to create an effective comprehensive inclusive education program, collaboration between general educators, special educators, and families is needed.”

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 are placements outside of general education?

If a student is unable to access appropriate learning (FAPE) in general education because their needs cannot be met there, 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.”

IEP teams may discuss whether there’s a need for a smaller classroom setting or something else. Keep in mind that a home-based placement is a very restrictive placement because it segregates a student entirely from their peers.

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
  • day treatment, therapeutic school specializing in behavioral health
  • private placement outside of the school district (non-public agency/NPA)
  • residential care or treatment facilities (also known as NPAs)
  • alternative learning experience (ALE)
  • home-based placement  

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.”

Resources about inclusionary practices

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.

As stated earlier, The TIES Center at the University of Minnesota partnered with the Haring Center for Inclusive Education at the University of Washington to build a resource for families and schools writing IEPs to support students within general education: Comprehensive Inclusive Education: General Education and the Inclusive IEP.

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). ​PAVE has an article with more detail about 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

 

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

 

Changes To Your Child’s Placement

It is the time of year that all of us have been looking forward to. SCHOOL IS STARTING!

For those of us who have children with special needs this can be either wonderful or not so wonderful.  We, as parents, really need to understand that changes, anytime of the year, to our children’s program, services or placement cannot take place until the district provides us with Prior Notice in WRITING. At the end of a IEP meeting or at least 14 calendar days prior to changing of a child’s placement, a school official must send you Prior Written Notice (PWN) of the proposed change of placement.

Prior Notice should be taken seriously  (WAC 392-172A-05010). It has been a part of the law that guaranteed our children the right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) passed in 1976.  Clearly parents are to be part of the IEP team. That team makes decisions about services and placement.

Let’s look at this placement question as an example. “Last year my child had been receiving 90 minutes a day in a resource classroom to support his academic needs in general education.  This year my child’s schedule says that all of his specially designed instruction will take place in a general education classroom and the person responsible for this instruction is the general education teacher.  . .  I am really confused.   I thought specially designed instruction can only be provided or supervised by a person who is qualified and general education teachers are not qualified. So what happened between last year when he needed Specially Designed Instruction and this year when he apparently needs none? I received no notice! I was not invited to an IEP meeting!”

What can I do?

  1. I can let his schedule stay the way it is and hope things work out.
    2. I can call the principal, special education teacher or counselor for their input.
    3. I can request in writing an immediate IEP meeting with the Special Education Director present to discuss the change, reminding the district about Prior Notice.
    4. I can file a Citizens Complaint or use any of my other procedural safeguards such as mediation or Due Process.
    5. I can move to another district or another state.

So what am I going to do?

  1. I am going to email  or in writing, contact my Special Education Director and document what has happened with copy’s to others that I feel need to know.
    2. I am going to state that until there is Prior Notice my child will return to his previous placement.
    3. I am going to request an IEP meeting in writing and make sure it is at a mutually agreed upon time.
    4. I am going to expect that his team will be able to explain how this placement is likely to benefit him and ask for the data used to make this decision.
    5. I will not put my house up for sale.

Special education and related services under IDEA are tightly connected to principles of individualization and are designed to respond appropriately to the needs of each specific child. Those needs drive the IEP that’s developed for the child of which the parent is a full participating member and in turn, drives the placement decision.

Special Education is a service, Not a place!

 

What Are Your Rights and Responsibilities to an Appropriate Education for your Child with a Disability?

As the parent of a child who has disabilities, you have the right to:

Expect a free, appropriate public education (F.A.P.E.) for your child.

Refer your child for an evaluation for a 504 plan and/or for special education.

Meet with the school district to decide whether or not to evaluate your child to determine if he or she has special needs (there must be written parental consent for evaluation).

Be fully informed regarding testing: What tests will be used and why? What are the findings?  Implications?

Ask for an independent evaluation at public expense if you disagree with the school district’s evaluation results.

Actively participate in the IEP process as an equal member of the team. This includes any meeting where decisions are made about your child’s identification, evaluation, program, or placement.

Call an IEP meeting. Be fully informed about the child’s program and progress. Ask questions. Give input.

Understand what the school professionals are saying about your child.

Agree or disagree with the other members of the team.

Bring another person to the meetings.

Take the proposed IEP home to review before signing it.

Review your child’s records.

Receive copies of anything that is in your child’s records.

Be treated as a qualified professional regarding your child.

As the parent of a child who has disabilities, you have the responsibility to:

Expect a free, appropriate public education (F.A.P.E.) for your child.

Keep a comprehensive file on your child.

Be professional.

Participate in meetings and discussions where decisions are made about the identification, evaluation, program and placement for your child.

Focus on the child.

Ask questions to clarify information.

Listen and consider the information from the other professionals.

Give feedback—positive as well as negative.

Be prepared as a member of the IEP team.

Stay informed.

Be consistently involved.

Be willing to share knowledge and information.

Work for the best interests of your child according to his or her needs.

You have many more rights and responsibilities than those listed here. Remember that you are a professional and the expert on your child, and you are an equal member of your child’s team! You are your child’s best advocate, because you know your child better than anyone else does.

The Office of the Education Ombudsman provides assistance to resolve complaints. They can be reached at:  1-877-297-2595 Or you can contact their website: www.governor.wa.gov/oeo

The PAVE Parent Training and Information Program may include information on State or Federal laws regarding the rights of individuals with disabilities. While this is provided to inform or make one aware of these rights, legal definitions, or laws/regulations, it is not providing legal representation or legal advice. The recipient understands that this is information is to educate them not to provide them with legal representation.