Least Restrictive Environment
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I want to apologize, this post should have been out about two weeks ago. However, due to the winter storm and all of the unforeseen damage that came with it, I have been a little behind. But here it is, so enjoy!
When I sat down to write this post, I wasn’t sure where to start. Least Restrictive Environment (wanting to educate the student in question to the maximum extent with non-disabled peers) seems like an easy enough term to follow, but my job as a SPED teacher has always been to break things down into more easily digestible components. And in order to do that, I feel like it might behoove us to backtrack a little and explain how SPED classes and placements are broken down into categories first.
I have included this great graphic from www.myeducationalsolutions.com that will hopefully help you visualize this term.
To get us started, general education, with no supports, will be the base of our pyramid as the least restrictive environment. Which will make our first step up from there, resource and inclusion. Those terms are quite often used together and sometimes interchangeably, but they are most definitely NOT the same. The most basic way to explain inclusion is when the learner stays in the general education (gen ed) classroom and the teacher “pushes in” or assists the student in the gen ed class.
If the SPED (special education) teacher is doing her job correctly and the student is in the correct placement, then most students should not know who the teacher is in the room to help. The SPED teacher should be able to help other students in the room, not just the assigned student, and this is done to help prevent stigma, etc.
The resource setting is when the student is pulled out of the class, in order to get in more independent help whether it be with classwork, social skills, behavior consultation, built-in breaks, etc. According to the National Association of Special Education Teachers, students may spend up to fifty percent of their day in the resource room.
These can and are oftentimes both utilized for the same student. For example, if the student just needs a few supports, either educationally or behaviorally, in English/Language Arts, they may just do 30 minutes of inclusion time for that learner. But the same learner may have more difficulties with math, and will then be pulled out to the resource room for what the IEP/ARD team determines is an appropriate amount of time.
Ideally, we want to give the learner the most independence they are capable of, and therefore these numbers may fluctuate in IEP/ARD meetings until they find the suitable balance for that student. These fluctuations should not be cause for alarm unless there are giant jumps in time and no data to support them. I’m not sure if I’ve stated this in past posts, but let me be clear, DATA should be what is driving all of this. If there is no data, then there should be no discussion of placement changes.
The third step on our pyramid is a self-contained class, these students spend more than fifty percent of their day in special education. There are so many different names for these classes because each district calls each one something different. A few examples are functional living, where academics and life skills are both addressed. These classes can also range from learners with mild intellectual disabilities, autism, emotionally or behaviorally disturbed, to medically fragile.
Self-contained classes typically have lower student-to-teacher ratios. For example, the last two years that I taught, we had a lead teacher (myself) and two paraprofessionals to assist and we had anywhere from 6-12 learners. To be in these classes, there should be data proving that the learner is two or more years behind their peers in the general education curriculum. There is also an IQ component, however, that may change with the test that is given so check with your district and see what their requirements are.
Keep in mind, self-contained classes are not all offered on every campus. Therefore, they will typically send your student (via bus) to the nearest one to your designated homeschool.
There are also programs for learners whose health impairments do not allow them to attend school in-person, these are typically called Homebound.
There are cases where the public school system is not able to provide special education students the support that they require. In these cases, districts are required to reimburse the educational institution that is used in the district’s stead. Please understand, this is not if the parent chooses to place their learner in a private school. This only happens in a few instances, for example, if a student is having behavioral issues and the district is not able to supply the needed support.
As usual, check with your specific district and see what tests they use and how they determine placement. If you are changing districts and your child was in a self-contained class, remember that the new district will have different names and requirements for their programs. Just make sure to get clarification before they are placed. The districts do have 10 days to determine the correct placement, however, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get it right the first time.
Obligatory disclaimer, as usual, please remember this is based on my experiences in Texas and Louisiana. Laws can change so make sure you are referring to your district's and state’s policies and procedures.