IEP Program versus IEP Placement
First, it is important to note that an Individualized Education Program (IEP) has two parts – the student’s program and the student’s placement. A special education program refers to all the ‘stuff’ in the IEP (i.e., specialized instruction, services, supports, goals, accommodations, modifications). Each IEP program should be built in consideration of a child’s unique learning needs, and must be designed to allow the student to make effective progress.
Once the Team has developed an appropriate program, then the Team will determine the student’s IEP placement (i.e., where the program will be delivered). The order of these steps is important. Programming should determine placement, and not the other way around.
IEP Placement – LRE
Placement is where the Least Restrictive Environment comes into play. When determining a student’s placement, the IDEA requires IEP Teams to offer each student an educational program located in the “least restrictive environment”. The LRE is defined under state and federal law as follows:
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 not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
So by law school districts are required to first develop an appropriate program for a student, and then offer the student this program in the LRE.
Levels of LRE
In Massachusetts, the classification of LRE is based upon the percentage of time a student is included in general education settings. The order of LRE placements from most inclusive to most restrictive is:
- Full Inclusion (almost all instruction occurs in the general education setting)
- Partial Inclusion (student is pulled out for some services or instruction, but still spends most of his or her day in the general education setting)
- Substantially Separate (student spends most of his or her day outside of the general education classroom, but is attending a program located within a public school and has opportunities to interact with general education peers)
- Public or Private Day Program (student is attending a collaborative or special education day program which is likely to be outside of the child’s school district, and student often will not have opportunities to interact with general education peers)
- Residential Program (student will attend a special education program throughout the day and night)
Requiring school districts to offer students programs in the LRE ensures that students with special needs will have equal access to a public education, and are not being excluded from public programming on the basis of disability. While the purpose of programming in the LRE serves an important function, Teams should also remember that keeping a student in a more inclusive setting is not appropriate if the student cannot learn effectively there.