Navigating the Waters of Placement in the Public School System
Your child was just determined eligible for special education services in your public school system. Sitting at an IEP meeting and listening to someone on the team list the array of possible placements for your child, with all their pros and cons, can be overwhelming. Who wants to make a decision that will affect your child’s life, based on a five minute snapshot of information during an already stressful situation? Wouldn’t it be an advantage to understand these placements before the actual moment in which you’ll make that decision? This article will do just that: identify and explain typical public school special education placements, along with their pros and cons.
Least Restrictive Environment
Schools are, by law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004), required to provide a student with the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means that, to the extent possible, your child should be exposed to the general education curriculum and be placed with the general education population. The LRE is not specifically defined, however, because just as every child is different, so too will the LRE for that child be different. For the purpose of this article, we are going to presume that the public school setting is deemed appropriate for your child. Within that system there are many different types of placements. We are going to start with the one that has the maximum time with the general education population, and move our way back to the most isolated placement in a public school.
Mainstreaming is, literally, putting the classified student in the general education classroom with little to no accommodations. This can work if the general education teacher is able to work well with a student who has a disability. The student must be near grade level in that subject and able to conform for the most part to the rules of the classroom in order for this to be successful.
Inclusion has been the buzzword since the mid-1990’s. In an inclusion class, there are two teachers, one of whom is certified in general education and the other in special education. The two teachers co-teach. They both teach the entire class at the same time. The way they do this depends on the needs of the students. At times, they may teach the class as a whole, taking turns leading the lesson. At other times, the special education teacher may split the class or take a smaller group to reinforce the class work. The special education teacher also modifies the materials as necessary for the classified students. This may include class work, study guides and tests. Students who are in inclusion settings usually have lunch and electives (i.e. art or music) in the general education setting.
Some students require the support of a small group setting. A resource room is taught by a special education teacher. Usually, these students spend part of the day, including homeroom, lunch and electives in an inclusion setting. They go to the resource room for the subjects that they need the most help with. The students get more individualized attention and learn at their own level. The pace is usually somewhat slower than the general education classroom. Teachers are able to tailor lessons to the students’ needs. After the class numbers reach a certain amount, it is required by law that a paraprofessional be in the room for extra support. This number varies by the grade of the student, the classification of the student, and by state.
The classroom that provides the most support for the student is the self-contained classroom. In this classroom, the student is taught in a small group all day. Students in this classroom usually report there for homeroom and stay there for all academic subjects. They typically have lunch and electives with their peers in general education. The pace and level of the work in a self-contained classroom is tailored to the needs of the student. After the class numbers reach a certain amount, it is required by law that a paraprofessional be in the room for extra support. Again, this number varies by the grade of the student, the classification of the student, and by state.
More and more, students are spending there days in more than one of these settings. IEP teams are realizing that it is beneficial to these students to spend as much time in the general education setting as possible. Regardless of their placement, the goals and objectives of your child’s IEP must be followed. Hopefully, you now have a better idea of the options available to your child in the public school setting. Remember to come to your meetings prepared, and with an open mind. It is always your right to call another meeting in between your annual reviews if you believe it is necessary.