Byline Text


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

School Placement

Stay-Put Law

School Placement Under an IEP

Once the IEP team (including the parents) has decided what services a child needs, the next step is making a decision about where those services will be provided to the child. The technical term for where the child's IEP is carried out is "placement". Parents have the right to be part of the group that will decide their child's placement.

When making a decision about the child's placement, the group must ensure that the child has the maximum opportunity appropriate to learn with children who do not have disabilities - this applies not only in academic settings, but in non-academic and extracurricular settings as well. This part of IDEA is called "Least Restrictive Environment" or "LRE".

Personal Story

We found out the hard way about the Stay-Put law and how you can be pulled into a placement decision that isn't the best for your child. Our son was struggling and had lots of problems with emotions and behavior. We had no idea what to do to help him learn. The school suggested using the behavior program for a few hours a week.

We decided to let our son take part in the behavior program because we didn't know what else to do -- We were new to IEPs and placement options; were concerned for our son; and thought the school was thinking of our son and his needs. After some time things were getting worse for our son instead of better. We wondered if maybe we should go back to the regular classroom on a full-time basis, and if the behavior program had been a good idea in the first place.

We met with the IEP team again and their suggestion was full-time in the behavior program since part-time wasn't successful. At this point, we were told that the regular classroom was not an option due to our son's behavioral issues (symptoms of bipolar disorder) and emotional instability and a one-on-one aide in the regular classroom for our son was neither available nor an option.

We tried telling the school members of the IEP team our reasons that neither part-time nor full-time in the behavior program would be successful. They did not seem to care and basically told us to take it or leave it. Their exact words were: "This is how it is. Going back to the regular classroom is not an option, and if you don't like it, you can just take us to due process."

The school again told us why full-time in their behavior program was best for our son and that no other placement setting would work or was available. We did not realize that there was a variety of placement options that needed to be considered in order, or that under IDEA, placement should not be based on a label or symptoms in a "one size fits all" setting. Not knowing much about IEPs and IDEA, we didn't have all the information we needed; we were scared/worried about our son getting an education; and had no idea what else to do. Needless to say, we fell into the same trap many parents do of assuming the school is looking out for our child's best interests, and so, we listened to the school.

Our son was moved to the behavior program full-time. The information given to us was neither truthful nor complete -- the "one size fits all" approach for the behavior program; the difficulties in getting a child back into the regular classroom; and that the next placement option if the behavior program wasn't successful was a partial hospitalization/day treatment program.

The behavior program did not help our son to learn nor did it make a difference with his social/emotional skills and stability. It made things worse -- our son began rapidly shifting between mania and depression and became very unstable. The extent of what happened to him as a result of the behavior program ended with him spending over a year in a partial hospitalization/day treatment program.

If we had known about the Stay-Put Law, we could have invoked this when the school first suggested the behavior program (while our son was still in the regular education classroom). This would have given us time to learn about the behavior program and then be able to provide the school with our reasons about why the behavior program would be both an inappropriate placement for our son and not the least restrictive environment.

We also learned the hard way that going along with something that the school wants (especially when you are unsure of it) for even a small amount of time leaves the door open for the school to increase the amount of time spent in a different setting. We learned that things need to be spelled out specifically in an IEP regarding placement (i.e., time spent in the program will be one hour a day for five days a week on a trial period to last no longer than three weeks; specify what you want to happen at the end of the trial period and what the reasons will be).

  • What is required under IDEA?
  • IDEA has a lot to say about placement. The provisions for LRE in IDEA are found primarily in §300.114 through §300.117.
    • Under IDEA, Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is described as follows:
      ...To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities...are educated with children who are nondisabled; and ... special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. [§300.114(a)(2)(i)]
    • Under IDEA, it is also required that the child's placement:
      • is determined at least annually;
      • is based on the child's IEP; and
      • is as close as possible to the child's home. [§300.116(b)]
    • The law includes some additional requirements:
      • When looking at the options available for placement, consideration must be given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs. [§300.116(d)
      • Unless the IEP requires some other arrangement, the child is educated in the same school that he or she would attend if non-disabled. [§300.116(c)]
      • A child who has a disability may not be removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms just because he or she needs modifications to the general curriculum. [§300.116(e)]
  • Who makes the placement decision?
  • The placement decision is generally made by the IEP team, but in some places it is made by another group of people. No matter which group makes the placement decision, under IDEA, this group must include the parent(s) and others who:
    • understand the meaning of the child's evaluation data;
    • who are knowledgeable about the child; and
    • know placement options. [§300.116(a)]
  • On what is the placement decision based?
  • When the IEP team or other group discusses placement, they should consider the child's unique needs and determine the least restrictive placement for the child, based upon those needs. A placement that is least restrictive for one child may not be the least restrictive placement for another child. This means that public school systems cannot use a "one size fits all" approach to educating children who have a disability. Decisions regarding placement must be based on individual needs as outlined in the child's IEP, and:
    • may not be based on disability program categories (i.e., placement in a particular program for students with learning disabilities (LD) just because a child needs LD services);
    • may not be based on the child's disabling condition or label (such as placement in a special class for children who are mentally challenged just because a child has cognitive impairments); and
    • may not be based on the location of staff, on the funds that are available, or on the convenience of the school district.
  • What kind of placements are there?
  • When making decisions about placement, the group looks at another important part of IDEA, the continuum of alternative placements. This continuum includes the different options where children can receive services and include placement options such as:
    • a general education class
    • a special education class
    • a special education school
    • at home
    • in a hospital or other public or private institution [§300.115]
  • How does the group looking at placement decide among these options?
  • Since the beginning of IDEA, this law has included a strong preference for children with disabilities to be educated alongside their non-disabled peers, to the maximum extent appropriate. For this reason, a student's placement in the general education classroom is the first option that the placement group should consider [71 Fed. Reg. 46588]
  • What supports does the student need?
  • IDEA recognizes that, in many instances, supports must be provided to a child with a disability to enable him or her to be educated in the general education environment, incuding participation in non-academic and extracurricular activities and settings. Under the law, these supports are called "supplementary aids and services". These aids and services often play a very important role in the facilitation and support of educating individual children with disabilities in the regular education environment.
  • Supplementary aids and services can be accommodations and modifications to the curriculum under study or the manner in which that content is presented or a child's progress is measured, but this is not all they are or can be. Supplementary aids and services can also include direct services and supports to the child, as well as support and training for the staff who work with that child. The determination of the supplementary aids and services that a child needs are made on an individual basis, specific to that child's unique needs. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of the wide variety of possibilities:
    • supports that address the environment (i.e., preferential seating for the student; changing the set-up of the classroom; seating the child in a quieter area of the room);
    • support and/or training for staff (can be done at the school; at conferences specific to the child's needs and/or disability; online);
    • planning time for staff;
    • one-on-one paraprofessional (an aide for the child with skills and training who is there solely to provide supports to the child thus enabling them to stay in the regular education environment but still receive specialized supplemental aids and services the regular classroom teacher would not be able to provide);
    • specialized equipment (i.e., computers, software, augmentive communication devices, restroom equipment, special seating, wheelchairs);
    • pacing of instruction (i.e., more time for completion of tests and assignments, a home set of materials, breaks);
    • how subject material is presented and/or provided (i.e., sign language, taped lectures, primary language, paired reading and writing);
    • testing adaptations (i.e., test is read to student, format is modified, student can take test orally, extended time);
  • Notifying parents
  • Although the child's parents are part of the group determing the child's placement and are likely to be well-informed as to the placement decision, the school system must still provide parents with prior written notice regarding the placement decision within a reasonable amount of time before implementing that decision.
  • What if the parents disagree with the placement decision?
  • If the parents disagree with the placement decision, they can refer to and use IDEA's procedural safeguards, which includes ways to resolve the conflict such as mediation and due process procedures. A parent of a child with a disability can also file a state complaint with their state's Office of Public Instruction.

Stay-Put Law

If the school district presents that they want to move your child to a more restrictive environment, or make any other changes to any part of the last agreed-upon IEP, as a parent, you have the right to invoke "stay-put". Many parents are not aware of the stay-put provision in federal law. Under IDEA, the stay-put provision means that the child can remain in the current educational placement and continue to receive all of the same services under the last (current) agreed-upon IEP until a mutual agreement can be made between the parents and the school district.

Essentially, what this means is that none of the services provided to and/or received by the child can be reduced, and additionally, that the child cannot be moved to another school or placement setting without parental consent or an order from an Administrative Law Judge through a Due Process hearing. For example, if your child has been receiving occupational or physical therapy 3 times a week for 30 minutes per session and the school district wants to reduce this to 2 times a week for 20 minutes each session, you can invoke stay-put and your child will continue receiving the 3 sessions of 30 minutes each of occupational or physical therapy until you and the school district either come to an agreement or go through Due Process.

Another scenario commonly seen is that the child is in a regular education classroom but is not making good progress. The school district has recommended that the student be placed in a special classroom. As the parent, you disagree with this decision and invoke the stay-put provision under IDEA. This means that your child will remain in his or her current placement of a regular education classroom for the time being.

Stay-put is a VERY important advocacy tool that is greatly under-utilized. School districts do not tell parents about the stay-put provision under IDEA and in many cases, parents are left feeling as though they have no other choice but to accept whatever is being offered by the school district. Quite simply, this is not the case, and parents do have other options available to them.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Under IDEA, federal law requires that school districts practice inclusion. This means having disabled peers educated with their same-age non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. When deciding the placement of a special education student, the IEP team must take into consideration LRE and offer the "Full Continuum of Placement Options". The Full Continuum of Placement Options includes:

  • General Education Classroom (Regular Education).
  • General Education Classroom with additional supports and services - including a one-on-one (1:1) paraprofessional (aide).
  • General Education Class - Some direct instruction. Less than 21% of time out of the classroom for special education services.
  • General Education Class - 21% to 60% of instructional day spent in pull-out.
  • Some and/or no instruction in General Education Class - Minimum of 60% of the instructional day spent in a special setting (intensive services).
  • Some and/or no instruction in General Education Class - School-based day treatment program.
  • No instruction in General Education Class - Special day school facility.
  • Residential School.
  • Hospitalization Program.
  • Home Instruction.









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