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(7.12) When I develop my child’s IEP, how can I include services and placement in the least restrictive environment? How can the IEP team write this specifically?

(7.12) When I develop my child’s IEP, how can I include services and placement in the least restrictive environment? How can the IEP team write this specifically?

Federal law requires that special education students have access to, and benefit from, the general education curriculum.  All the major components of the IEP should be focused on including special education students in the general curriculum, extra-curricular/co-curricular activities, and achievement testing or appropriate social interaction within the general education setting:

  1. The statement of a student’s present levels of educational performance in the IEP must contain a description of how her disability affects her involvement and progress in the general curriculum (that is, the same curriculum as for nondisabled children) and her ability to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(1).]
  2. The statement of goals and benchmarks/objectives (goals) in the IEP must relate to meeting the student’s needs that result from her disability and to enable her to be involved and progress in the general curriculum. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(2)(i)(A).]
  3. The special education and related services and supplementary aids and services listed in the IEP must be provided to enable the student to be involved and progress in the general curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(4)(ii).]
  4. The IEP must also contain a statement of any individual modifications used in administering state or district-wide assessments of student achievement. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(6)(i).]

Goals that are based on the general curriculum need not call for mastery of the subject matter or even for completion of every task or activity. A goal might call for learning only a portion or the first few steps of a skill that nondisabled students might go on to complete. The important factor in analyzing the appropriateness of a placement may be the degree of participation in the activities of the surrounding classroom. In addition, goals that require integrated activities are another means of ensuring integration. A goal might read:  “Sandra will participate in a team sport with nondisabled peers three times per week for 45 minutes per activity.” These goals assure your child of regular contact with nondisabled children.

Academics are not the only measure of educational benefit. [Holland, 786 F. Supp. at 878.] A student with disabilities will have a stronger case for an integrated environment, or regular classroom placement, if her IEP includes goals and benchmarks/objectives that relate to curriculum used in the desired placement.

Holland also stressed the importance of nonacademic benefits derived from a regular education classroom placement for students with disabilities. Because of the importance the court in Holland gave to nonacademic benefits, the IEP should also include information and goals and benchmarks/objectives related to the nonacademic benefits of an integrated placement. Such benefits for a student with a disability may include language and behavioral models, improved self-esteem and increased motivation for learning, or improved social skills.

If possible, you should meet with your child’s teacher before the IEP meeting or annual review. At the meeting, you and the teacher can identify your priorities for goals, discuss options for integration and/or mainstreaming, and reach a consensus regarding educational priorities. This may help you state your priorities at the IEP meeting itself and is a positive way of developing goals.

Federal law requires that a regular education teacher attend every IEP meeting for any child who is or may be participating in the regular education environment. [34 Sec. 300.321(a)(2).] You should meet with this teacher as well as any special education teacher your child might have to give you ideas and information on what goals you might request at the IEP meeting. In addition, you should ask for information about any special or related services, such as supplementary services, behavioral services, and staff support your child may need. This meeting is also an opportunity to suggest to the teachers that they begin to consider program modifications for your child or supports they will need to appropriately educate your child. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(4).]

State law specifically requires that “[the IEP team] shall document its rationale for placement in other than the student’s school and classroom in which the student would otherwise attend if the student were not handicapped. The documentation shall indicate why the student’s disability prevents her or her needs from being met in a less restrictive environment even with the use of supplementary aids and services.” [5 C.C.R. Sec. 3042(b).]

In addition, federal and state law requires that the IEP include a statement of the extent to which the student will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in extracurricular and nonacademic activities. [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(V); 34 C.F.R. 300.320(a)(5).]

Further, you can document your child’s participation with their nondisabled peers by listing specific classes (such as social studies, language arts, music, visual arts or computer science) or specific activities (such as assembly, lunch, recess, and circle time with nondisabled peers) in the IEP. It may also be appropriate for your child to participate in a “buddy” system.  A buddy is a nondisabled peer, who assists your child in or outside the classroom for certain activities. The goal of the buddy system is to foster interaction and friendship. You should also document this support in the IEP.

In terms of integration, you may wish to include contact with general education peers as part of specific goals. This would be a component of the conditions or setting described in the goal. For example:

  1. Ricardo will use the sign for “hello” to greet nondisabled peers at lunch and on the playground each day;
  2. Denise will engage in structured games with a nondisabled peer tutor from another class three times per week during leisure periods after lunch; or
  3. Ying-Lee will begin a self-feeding program by scooping her food at lunch, in the presence of a nondisabled peer.

Integration can, and should be, built into goals across areas of skill (communication, mobility, social) and domain (vocational, leisure, domestic, community). Contact with nondisabled and students with less severe disabilities in school may occur during periods such as community skill instruction, food preparation and lunch periods, vocational skill training, etc.

In terms of mainstreaming or full inclusion, students who can participate in regular programming or regular classes may require accommodations, modifications, supplementary aids or services within that class in order to learn. These must be specifically written into your child’s IEP. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(4).]

The IEP should specifically describe placement in the LRE. This can be written in the placement section, in the notes section or in an addendum attached to the IEP. Some examples of placement statements are:

  1. Placement in a special day class (SDC) on an age-appropriate regular school site with daily opportunities for integration and mainstreaming;
  2. Placement in fully mainstreamed model kindergarten program that is team taught by special and regular education teachers;
  3. Placement in a resource specialist program (RSP) for 30% of the school day. Mainstreamed for social studies, math, computers and all nonacademic classes with front row seating and oral testing in all classes;
  4. Placement at Rosa Parks Elementary School SDC with mainstreaming aide for music, art, homeroom and lunch;
  5. Placement in SDC at César Chávez High School with integrated and community-based programming as set out in the IEP; or
  6. Full inclusion placement in a regular education first grade classroom with a full-time instructional aide.

See Appendices Section, Appendix O, Indicators of Fully Inclusive Programs for Students with Disabilities, for additional guidance.