Least Restrictive Environment, Mainstreaming, and Inclusion (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Continuum of Alternative Placements

Senator Stafford (1978), an original sponsor of the IDEA, stated that Congress included the LRE principle in the law in recognition that for some students an education in the general education classroom would not be appropriate. For these students, placements in more restrictive settings would be required to provide an appropriate education. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson School District v. Rowley (1982), interpreted congressional intent similarly:

Despite this preference for “mainstreaming” handicapped children—educating them with nonhandicapped children—Congress recognized that regular education simply would not be a suitable setting for the education of many handicapped children. . . the act thus provides for the education of some handicapped children in separate classes or institutional settings. (p. 192)

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) of the U.S. Department of Education also recognized “that some children with disabilities may require placement in settings other than the general education classroom in order to be provided with an education designed to address their unique needs” (Letter to Goodling, 1991, p. 214).

To ensure that students with disabilities are educated in the LRE that is most appropriate for their individual needs, the IDEA requires that school districts have a range or continuum of alternative placement options to meet their needs. The continuum represents an entire spectrum of placements where a student’s special education program can be implemented (Bartlett, 1993; Gorn, 1996). Regulations require that

  1. Each [school district] shall ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services
  2. The continuum required. . . must:
    • Include the alternative placements. . . (instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions); and
    • Make provision for supplementary services (such as resource room or itinerant instruction) to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement. (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.551)

The purpose of the continuum is to allow school personnel to choose from a number of options in determining the LRE most appropriate for the student. OSERS has emphasized the importance of school districts’ maintaining a continuum of placements “in order to be properly prepared to address the individual needs of all children with disabilities” (Letter to Frost, 1991, p. 594). If the local school district is unable to provide the appropriate placement, the state may bear the responsibility of ensuring the establishment and availability of a continuum of alternative placements (Cordero v. Pennsylvania, 1993).

A school district may not refuse to place a child in an LRE because it lacks the appropriate placement option (Tucker & Goldstein, 1992). Moreover, if gaps in the continuum exist within a school district, the district must fill them through whatever means are required (e.g., consortium-type arrangements). This does not mean that each school district must provide for a complete continuum within its own boundaries. When the educational needs of a student cannot be met in district programs, however, the district is obligated to provide a placement where the student’s needs can be met. The regulations implementing the IDEA require that the various alternative placements in the continuum of placements “are to be available to the extent necessary to implement the individualized education program” (IDEA Regulations, 34 C.F.R. § 300.552(b)). This may necessitate the district’s sending the student to another school (public or private) that provides the needed placement. In such cases, the neighborhood school district retains financial responsibility for the student’s education.

The IEP team determines the placement along this continuum that is the least restrictive setting in which a student will receive an appropriate education. Restrictiveness is defined, for purposes of the continuum, by proximity to the general education classroom. Education in the least restrictive setting (i.e., the general education classroom) is the preferred option so long as it is consistent with an appropriate education. If a student cannot receive a meaningful education in the general education classroom, another placement, in which the student will receive a meaningful education, is required.

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