Children with disabilities require programs of specially-designed instruction in order to establish basic academic skills. Without these skills, such students cannot adequately access a general education curriculum nor are they prepared to transition independently into the world of work.
Public schools are increasingly cutting services to children with disabilities under the guise of the "Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)". LRE means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in regular education classrooms with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as "supplementary aids and services".
The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have been included in the law in their present form since 1975. IDEA does not, however, use or define the term “inclusion”.
IDEA requires that the IEP of each disabled student must contain a "statement of the specific special education and related services to be provided to the child and the extent that the child will be able to participate in regular educational programs." 34 CFR §300.346 (a) (3). This means that the IEP must also define the extent to which disabled students will attend school along with non-disabled peers in the school they would normally attend if not disabled.
The LRE requirement has unfortunately shortchanged many disabled students from getting the special education programs and services that they clearly need to make reasonable educational progress. For example, a student who cannot read at grade level may be given supplementary aides and services that include the use of audio books, oral tests and modified classroom materials, so that they can access the general education curriculum. However, these modifications and accommodations do nothing to actually teach the student to read!
It is critical, therefore, that IDEA guidelines be followed by all public school districts and that an individualized inquiry into the unique educational needs of each and every disabled student be made to determine the learning needs of those students.
IDEA does not require that every student with a disability be placed in a regular education classroom. This recognition (i.e. that regular class placement may not be appropriate for every disabled student) is reflected in IDEA's 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 on this continuum must include alternative placements listed in the definition of special education under § 300.17 including instruction in regular education classes, special education classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions. " 34 CFR §300.551 (b) (1).
Any alternative placement selected for a disabled student outside the regular education environment must (1) maximize opportunities for the student to interact with non-disabled peers to the extent appropriate to meet the needs of the student and (2) be calculated to insure reasonable educational progress.
Without appropriately designed special education programs and services, disabled students will not make reasonable educational progress in establishing basic academic skills and will not become empowered to access general education programs or successfully transition into the workplace following high school graduation.
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