Individualization in Special Education (page 2)
The IEP team determines the least restrictive appropriate setting. The IDEA, its regulations, and comments to these regulations make it clear that the IEP team can only make this decision by examining students’ needs and determining their goals based on this assessment. Federal regulations state that “the overriding rule . . . is that placement decisions must be made on an individual basis” (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.552, comment). In 1991, OSERS interpreted the LRE mandate as requiring that “children with disabilities should be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate; however, the determination of whether to place a child with disabilities in an integrated setting must be made on a case-by-case basis” (Letter to Stutler and McCoy, 1991, p. 308).
Because of the individualized nature of the LRE placement, there are no simple rules to guide IEP teams in making placement decisions. The legislation and litigation do, however, provide guidance regarding the decision-making process. Clearly, certain actions are never “appropriate,” such as developing blanket policies regarding LRE decisions. For example, schools must never refuse to place particular categories of students with disabilities in general education classes; neither should they refuse more restrictive placements when required.
The decisions in Greer v. Rome City School District (1991) and Oberti v. Board of Education (1993) are particularly instructive, as the courts delineated the inappropriate actions by the school districts that resulted in the districts’ losses in these cases. Perhaps the most important reason for these losses was the courts’ unwillingness to accept assertions of appropriateness of restrictive settings without proof by school districts as to the inappropriateness of the general education classroom (Yell, 1995). In both Greer and Oberti, the school districts did not have data from direct experience to indicate that the general education class placement was not appropriate. For example, in Oberti the plaintiff was a student who exhibited significant behavior problems in the general education classroom. Although the school district’s special education director testified that the school had attempted to keep the student in the general education classroom through various procedures, the IEP did not contain a behavioral plan. In Greer, the court ruled against the school district because (a) the IEP team failed to consider the full continuum of placements in determining the LRE; (b) the school made no attempt to assist the student to remain in the mainstream setting; and (c) the school district developed the IEP prior to the IEP meeting and did not clearly inform the Greers of the full range of services that may have been required to maintain their child in the general education classroom. Conversely, in the Daniel, Hartmann, and Clyde K. decisions, in which the school districts prevailed, school officials had attempted and documented a number of efforts to maintain the students in the general education classroom.
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