Inclusion Confusion: Can a School District Remove its Special Day Class Programs?

The least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been included in the law in their present form since 1975.

However, questions have been raised about the relationship of IDEA's LRE requirements to "inclusion,” and whether a school district can remove its special day class programs.

The opportunities for inclusion have made an important contribution to the ability of handicapped students to prepare for life after school in a world with non-handicapped people. They have also helped the non-handicapped students to develop a familiarity and understanding about handicapped people as people instead of the ignorance and fear.

IDEA does not use the term "inclusion." However, IDEA does require the IEP team to place students in the LRE. LRE means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as "supplementary aids and services," along with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless a student's IEP requires some other arrangement.

Under the IDEA, the district has an affirmative responsibility to ensure the supply of sufficient numbers of teachers who are qualified, with needed aides and supports, to provide services to students with disabilities in regular educational environments, and to provide necessary training and support services to students with disabilities.

Such supports may include an aide, behavior support or intervention plan, curriculum modification, and specialized equipment, to mention a few.

Under IDEA, lack of adequate personnel or resources does not relieve a school district of its obligation to make FAPE available to each disabled student in the least restrictive educational setting in which his or her IEP can be implemented. Exclusion of a student from an appropriate placement based solely on the student's disability is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

So, if the placement of a student with a disability can be implemented satisfactorily in the regular classroom (with the provision of supplementary aids and services), then the regular education placement is the LRE for that student.

On the other hand, IDEA does not require that every student with a disability be placed in the regular classroom regardless of individual abilities and needs. However, before making such a determination, school districts must ensure that consideration has been given to the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to the student in the regular educational environment to accommodate the unique needs of the disabled student.

If the placement team determines that even with the provision of supplementary aids and services, the student's IEP could not be implemented satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, that placement would not be the LRE placement for the student.

This recognition that regular class placement may not be appropriate for every disabled student is reflected in the requirement that school districts make available a range of placement options, known as a continuum of alternative placements, to meet the unique educational needs of students with disabilities.

This requirement for the continuum reinforces the importance of the individualized inquiry, not a "one size fits all" approach, in determining what placement is the LRE for each student with a disability. The options in this continuum must include "the alternative placements listed in the definition of special education, including instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions."

Furthermore, school districts may not make placements based solely on factors such as the following: Category of disability; severity of disability; configuration of delivery system; availability of educational or related services; availability of space; or administrative convenience.

The placement team must select the option on the continuum in which it determines that the student's IEP can be implemented. Any alternative placement selected for the student outside of the regular educational environment must maximize opportunities for the student to interact with nondisabled peers, to the extent appropriate to the needs of the student.

In conclusion, remember that the IEP team's placement must meet your child's unique needs. If your child can be appropriately educated in regular education setting with the use of appropriate aides and supports, then the regular education placement is the LRE for your child. If your child cannot be appropriately educated in the regular education setting even with the use of appropriate aides and supports, then the IEP team must consider the continuum of placement options, and place your child in the appropriate placement.