When you have a child with special needs, there’s a lot to consider when trying to meet their educational needs. Not only do you want them to learn and hit academic benchmarks, but you also want to nurture their social growth and help them feel included. In the past, students in special education programs often spent all or most of their time in a separate special education classroom, seeing their peers for only a few minutes per day. Now, students have the legal right to learn in the least restrictive environment that still meets their unique educational needs.
The LRE Principle
The guiding principle behind the least restrictive environment is that students should be with their peers as often as possible in an inclusive classroom. Per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, this principle must be followed to the “maximum extent that is appropriate.” This provides some flexibility in determining which environment is most suitable for each student. Separate classrooms or schools should only be considered when a standard classroom is incapable of meeting a student’s educational needs, even with the help of services and aids.
Placement Should Be Discussed During IEP
Your child’s LRE should be discussed during your annual IEP meeting. While teachers, aids, psychologists, and other school professionals may be part of your child’s IEP team, remember that you are also part of the team. You can and should provide input on what your child needs to learn and which environment you feel is appropriate for their needs. A child’s LRE can change from year to year, based on their growth and goals, so don’t be afraid to revisit this topic even if educators seem content with the child’s current learning environment.
Support May Be Required
You know that each child’s needs are unique, which is why the LRE doesn’t dictate how students’ time should be spent—there’s no one solution that fits every child. While one student may be able to spend all day in the general classroom with help from an aide during one subject, another student may need to spend at least half of their time in the special education classroom to reach their full learning potential. To help students spend as much time in the classroom as possible, school districts must provide necessary support and assistance. Options include:
- Tutors and educational aides
- Assistive technology
- Testing accommodations
- Activity modifications
An IEP could lead to one of several different outcomes for your child. Your child might be able to spend their entire day in the general classroom with specific supports, divide their time up between the special education classroom and the general classroom, spend all of their time in the special education classroom, or attend a specialized program at a different school. Having a child spend all of their time in the special education classroom or in a specialized separate program should only be considered if the child’s needs are such that a general classroom is completely unsuitable, even with support.
As a parent, your most important job is advocating for your child. Whether you’re getting ready for your first IEP or you need help getting your child into a more inclusive environment, trust the team at The Matus Law Group to work with your family to develop solutions. Call us at (732) 281-0060 to get started.