Least Restrictive Options
When faced with the challenge of selecting an appropriate placement for a child, parents and professionals need to understand the concept of “least restrictive environment” (LRE). IDEIA sets up procedural guidelines to ensure a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment tailored to each child’s individual needs.
The law begins with the assumption that, to the maximum extent possible, children with disabilities should be educated with their non-disabled peers. Once the child’s needs are assessed and necessary services and supports are determined, the placement options should begin with the regular or inclusive classroom. Children with disabilities do not have to start in a more restrictive or separate class and then “earn” the right to move to a less restrictive placement. If it is found that a regular education classroom would not meet the child’s needs, even with support services, then another option may be pursued. Keep in mind that the child with a disability must benefit from the placement. The child should not be “dumped” in a classroom where he/she is not receiving an appropriate education.
The law specifies that educational placement should be determined individually for each child, based on that child’s specific needs, not solely on the diagnosis or category. No one program or amount of services is appropriate for all children with disabilities. A safe educational environment is important for all children. School safety concerns are addressed in IDEIA, and educational services cannot be withheld as a disciplinary remedy. While students with disabilities may be suspended for disciplinary concerns that would also apply to general education students, educational services must continue at all times, even when a student is expelled for behavior not associated with his disability.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a written document that outlines a child’s education. As the name implies, the educational program should be tailored to the individual student to provide maximum educational benefit. The key word is individual. A program that is appropriate for one child with autism may not be appropriate for another.
The IEP is the cornerstone for the education of a child with a disability. It should identify the services a child needs so that he/she may grow and learn during the school year. It is also a legal document that outlines:
- The child’s special education plan by defining goals for the school year
- Services needed to help the child meet those goals
- A method of evaluating the student’s progress
The objectives, goals and selected services are not just a collection of ideas on how the school may educate a child; the school district must educate your child in accordance with the IEP.
To develop an IEP, the local education agency officials and others involved in the child’s educational program meet to discuss education-related goals. By law, the following people must be invited to attend the IEP meeting:
- One or both of the child’s parents
- The child’s teacher or prospective teacher
- A representative of the public agency (local education agency), other than the child’s teacher, who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education
- The child, if appropriate
- Other individuals at the discretion of the parent or agency (such as a physician, advocate, or neighbor)
With the 2004 REAUTHORIZATION OF THE INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES EDUCATION IMPROVEMENT ACT, or IDEA (P.L. 108-446), parents now must be included as “members of any group that makes decisions on the educational placement of the child.” IEP meetings must be held at least annually, but may be held more often if needed. Parents may request a review or revision of the IEP at any time. While teachers and school personnel may come prepared for the meeting with an outline of goals and objectives, the IEP is not complete until it has been thoroughly discussed and all parties agree to the written document.
Parents are entitled to participate in the IEP meeting as equal participants with suggestions and opinions regarding their child’s education. They may bring a list of suggested goals and objectives as well as additional information that may be pertinent to the IEP meeting.
The local education agency (LEA) must attempt to schedule the IEP meeting at a time and place agreeable to both school staff and parents. School districts must notify parents in a timely manner so that they will have an opportunity to attend. The notification must indicate the purpose of the meeting (i.e., to discuss transition services, behavior problems interfering with learning, academic growth).
Parents may encounter stipulations presented by school personnel that may not necessarily be supported by the provisions of IDEA. Some statements have included:
- IEPs must be a predetermined number of pages.
- IEPs are to be completed without parental input and only a certain number of goals and objectives are allowed in the IEP.
- If your objective doesn’t fit into the field length on our computer program, it can’t be included.
There is nothing in the federal law that supports these types of statements or stipulations. While parents should not accept misinformation concerning the IEP, you don’t need to approach the parent/school relationship in an adversarial manner. It is in everyone’s best interest to remember that both parents and teachers share a common goal: to develop a program that will be appropriate for the child with autism. By sharing information and knowledge, parents and schools can collaborate to develop a truly effective IEP.