Knowledge of Supportive Services
In the past, students with disabilities were segregated from typically developing peers. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act changed that practice to make sure that students with special needs would be educated in general education classrooms, a principle stated as the “least restrictive environment” or sometimes referred to as LRE. In this video, we will discuss the different factors of the least restrictive environment principle, what they mean, as well as the different options for educational placements. Let’s get started!
LRE is a principle within the IDEA. This requires that students with disabilities be in the general education classroom to the maximum extent possible, as research supports the idea that students with disabilities learn and socialize more when they are educated with their peers without disabilities. The least restrictive environment plays a vital role in developing an Individual Education Plan. The LRE affects many aspects of a child’s education, including where they spend their time at school, the services they receive, and the relationships they develop with their teachers and peers. The aim of the LRE is to ensure that a child who is disabled receives a free, appropriate public education in which their educational needs are met in equal measure to their peers without disabilities. IDEA requires that children with disabilities be removed from regular education only if the nature or severity of their disability renders regular education with supplementary aids and services insufficient.
In the process of developing a student’s IEP, the IEP team is largely responsible for determining what is least restrictive in a given circumstance. An IEP team made up of an interdisciplinary group of individuals, and the student’s parents or guardians determine together what kind of individualized program of instruction the student needs in light of their current levels of performance and areas of strength and weakness. When a student receives such services and supports, they can progress toward attaining their defined academic and functional goals and participate in both general education and extracurricular activities. In order to assist schools in identifying the most appropriate placement for each student based on the least restrictive environment principle, a continuum identifying the least to the most restrictive placement has been developed.
According to the principle, a student’s least restrictive environment begins with the general education classroom. This would mean that the student spends the entire day in the general education class learning with typically developing students. This often means that students with disabilities are provided appropriate services and support in the classroom. To maximize the potential for success in general environments, changes, adaptations, and accommodations likely need to be made. Some examples of accommodations may include material being presented differently, or the use of assistive technology such as computers. Sometimes an inclusion class is also part of this level of the least restrictive environment. This is a co-taught classroom with both a general and special educator and is sometimes referred to as a collaborative team-teaching classroom. This allows education to take place within the classroom but be broken up into smaller groups if necessary.
The LRE principle accommodates the reality that not every child may be able to be educated in a general education classroom throughout their entire school day. If the student’s needs require more than a full day in a general education setting, the next step of the LRE principle would be learning in a general education classroom with certain sections of the day being pulled out by a special education teacher. This is sometimes referred to as Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETSS) and was previously called “resource room.” In this placement, a special education teacher would assist the student with a disability in participating in the general education classroom through appropriately designed or supplemental instruction sections of the day.
Typically, before a student is moved to a more restrictive section on the continuum, the IEP team must examine whether they have tried everything possible to make the student successful in a general education setting. If they have and the data shows it has been ineffective, an alternative placement must be considered. A self-contained classroom may be the next step for some students with more severe disabilities. Self-contained classrooms are more likely to have fewer students compared to standard classrooms with many peers. There are usually about 10 students in self-contained classes who have distinct learning disabilities and are taught by a special education teacher. A paraeducator is assigned to each self-contained classroom to provide instructional support to the teacher as needed. Students with special needs and specific difficulties are accommodated in special education classrooms that have been designed to provide enhanced support. These placements are often justified by the idea that the highly trained teacher can provide more assistance than what these students would receive in a classroom with a higher student-to-teacher ratio. A self-contained room may be appropriate for students with extreme behavioral concerns, developmental issues, or severe dyslexia, or students who have specific academic challenges. As a reminder, LRE policy states that students would not be placed in this placement unless all resources are exhausted first in assisting the student in the general education setting.
The next step on the continuum would be that the student is unable to be educated at the school and would need to be sent to a separate school. It may be suggested that students with disabilities be referred to another school or educational institution if the school does not offer necessary special education programs or facilities. Nonetheless, it is the student’s home district that is responsible for ensuring the student receives an appropriate education. The costs of transportation must not exceed those incurred for the student if they were to remain in their home district.
The final and most restrictive environments would be homebound instruction or hospital or residential facility education. Students with illness or injuries are eligible for this service in order to receive education at home while recovering. This form of placement is identified on an IEP or 504 Plan as a service with limited time frames due to the fact that, in most cases, it is the most restrictive. In accordance with IDEA, a student can receive homebound services if they are unable to access the school campus due to an illness or hospitalization, a physical or mental impairment, or a condition that requires recovery at home. IEP teams must also determine that homebound placement is the least restrictive. In the case of chronic or acute health problems, such as tuberculosis, leukemia, and rheumatic fever, which limit strength, vitality, and cognition, and which adversely affect academic performance, then homebound services may be appropriate.
Likewise, residential placement is temporarily available to students who are unable to attend school due to a medically documented reason, but with limitations. For example, it may only be possible to offer home teaching for a certain number of days during the school year if a student is in an acute emotional crisis. As at school, home and hospital instruction must provide relevant services to the child.
The placement of a student not only impacts their academic success but also their experience with school in general, the expectations that teachers and school districts have for them, and their ability to learn from a variety of peers. It is essential that teachers and members of the IEP team are making educated and informed decisions when deciding a student’s placement, and that that placement be re-evaluated on a yearly basis. This will help to ensure the strongest success for that student throughout their education.
Let’s look at a few review questions.
1. An IEP team has determined that the least restrictive environment for Sara, a second-grade student with severe dyslexia, includes spending most of the day in a special education self-contained classroom. Which is the most appropriate reason that would support this placement?
- Any student with severe dyslexia is automatically placed in a self-contained setting.
- There are no situations under which an appropriate placement would be a separated classroom; she should be in the general education classroom.
- Sara was not making progress in the general education classroom, even with pull-out support, and would be able to progress further in a classroom with a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.
- The general education teacher was not equipped to support Sara’s diagnosis.
A student needs to be taught in the general education classroom first, and only when there is data to show that this placement has been unsuccessful can a student be moved to a more restrictive environment. A is incorrect because even students with severe disabilities need to be placed in the least restrictive environment. B is incorrect because there are times where a special education placement is appropriate. D is incorrect because the next step would be the general education classroom with additional services, or possibly a collaborative team-teaching classroom.
2. Jonathan is a student who has been diagnosed with ADHD hyperactivity-combined presentation. In addition, he also has been diagnosed with dysgraphia and is reading one grade level below the expected level. Which of the following placements would be considered the least restrictive environment?
- A special education classroom where he can be among a small group of students to get very focused attention
- A general education classroom, or an inclusive classroom, where he can be among general education peers but with some adaptations and supports
- A general education classroom with no additional services, as they are not necessary for his diagnoses
- Extracurricular periods, as well as lunch and recess, with a general education classroom, but a pull-out for all academic subjects.
A student with ADHD and dysgraphia who is reading only slightly below level should be able to be taught in a general education classroom with some modifications. A and D would be considered too restrictive, and C would not address the student’s additional learning needs.
3. If a student moves to a different school district that does not provide the placement listed on the IEP, what would be the best step for the school to take?
- Have the student continue in their old school.
- Have the school pay to transport the student to a school that offers the correct placement.
- Place them in the least restrictive environment in that school setting and evaluate how the student is doing.
- Place the student in a more restrictive placement so that the student does not feel overwhelmed.
Answer A might not be possible, and furthermore, it is the home district’s responsibility to educate the student. Answer B is not correct because this would only occur after all in-school environments have been tried. Answer D is also not correct because it does not place the student in the least restrictive environment.
That’s all for this review! Thanks for watching, and happy studying.