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What is included in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) - Part III

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

IEP Educational Placements Section

Finally, after discussing the goals, objectives, and the methods and equipment needed to achieve them, the IEP team then determines what educational settings the child will be placed in. These settings or placements will also be indicated in the IEP plan.

boy doing homeworkUnder IDEA, special education placement follows the Least Restrictive Environment philosophy in which students with special needs receive as much of their education as is practical within traditional classrooms, but are removed to specialized educational placements as proves necessary to address their needs. The IDEA directs that students must be educated with typically developing students "to the maximum extent appropriate." IDEA goes on to say that students should only be placed in separate classrooms, schools, or institutions 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."

The majority of students enrolled in special education spend the majority of their time in the traditional general education classroom. There are two main ways additional supports are provided to them. The first is called a classroom enrichment program. Classroom enrichment programs are any special education services, or special instruction, provided to special education students in the larger regular education classroom. The second method is called a pull-out program. In these types of programs the student spends part of the school day in another resource room. When students spend part of their day in separate resource rooms, they are "pulled out" of their regular education classroom. This is so that they can work on individual goals either one-on-one with a teacher or therapist, or in small groups with other children with similar needs. Enrichment and pull-out strategies are appropriate for addressing the majority of special needs issues in the least restrictive manner possible. However, some children have more profound disabilities and require more specialized educational settings in which these disabilities can be addressed. For example, a fourteen-year-old student with significant intellectual disabilities that have severely delayed her development of independent living skills will be better served spending part of her time learning from a functional curriculum (helping her learn how to prepare her own food, to read and follow directions on a recipe, to make a grocery list, and to make purchases) than she would be spending the equivalent time in a chemistry class with her normally developing peers.

More profoundly disabled children may receive the majority of their education in special separate classrooms, spending only a portion of their time with their mainstream peers. Some are educated in separate specialized schools. A relative few students have such severe or profound disabilities that they receive their special education services in a home, institution or hospital setting. This range of placements just described, from least restrictive (general classroom) to most restrictive (institutional setting), is sometimes called the continuum of learning placements. Many parents and educators have strong feelings about which placements will be best for students. If a school and family jointly decide that a student's needs can only be met by placing them in a private school, the child's assigned public school district is required to pay for the youth's tuition. However, if parents decide on their own to place a child in private school, the public school district is not required to pay the private tuition. Even though parents voluntarily elected to send their child to private school, and take on responsible for paying tuition, the public school district is still required to provide the child needed special education services. However, parents and guardians may have to transport the student to the appropriate public school location to receive those services. Because many families found this system too complicated and burdensome, the latest IDEA revision also mandates that the public school consults with the private school about how to best arrange the special education service provisions described in the IEP. In summary, if a school system identifies that a student needs a particular service, assistive technology, or learning environment through the IEP, they have to pay for these things. If a school system recommends a service or setting they cannot provide in their existing schools, they must pay for a student to obtain it outside of school.

Least Restrictive Environment vs. Full Inclusion (Mainstreaming)

A relative minority of special education professionals oppose the idea of the least restrictive environment, favoring instead absolute, full inclusion. Full inclusion or "mainstreaming" is the philosophy that all children with special needs should be educated fully in the general education classroom, because to do otherwise would violate their human rights. Proponents of full inclusion believe that least restrictive environments force special needs students into a second-class citizen role, forcing them to earn the right to be treated "normally". From a "mainstreaming" perspective, being treated normally is a right, not a privilege. While an attractive philosophy in some respects, we believe that full inclusion is simply not practical to implement when administering a real-world school system. That special education services are needed in the first place is testament to the fact that students' needs vary wildly; too wildly to be adequately addressed in a single classroom setting without providing outside support to those students with extreme needs. The individual needs of each student must be the largest deciding factor for placement decisions: Full inclusion, at least with regard to the way we understand it, cannot meet the extreme needs of some children without significantly compromising the needs of the majority of children.