There was a time when people thought of special education as a place. But that really isn’t the case any longer. Special education instead refers to services that are used to meet the learning needs of students with disabilities. You can find out more about special education terms and services on our Special Education 101 page.
Once your child’s Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee (which you are a part of) has developed your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), the next step is to decide on an educational placement.
Placement refers to the amount of time in each school day that a student spends in the resource or in a general education classroom. The school district is required to have a range of placements where your child can be taught, including in the general education classroom.
In deciding your child’s placement, the ARD committee must make sure your child spends as much of their school day (as is appropriate) with children who do not have disabilities. This includes academic, nonacademic, and after school activities. This part of IDEA is called Least Restrictive Environment or LRE. And, in this case, the word "appropriate" follows the definition of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
The LRE for children with disabilities depends on each child’s unique needs. It’s important to know that the school district cannot use a “one size fits all” approach to educating children who have disabilities.
There are some common placements in which students might get specific services. Teams of trained teachers and aides are in all types of placements.
A student could be placed in a single setting all day or spend parts of the day in different settings. For example, a student in a mainstream education classroom all day might receive special education services in the same general education classroom as part of regularly scheduled instruction time. Or, a student might go to different educational settings for part – or all – of the day to receive special education services.
There shouldn’t be any surprises, because educational placement is part of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) created by your child’s ARD committee. You are a part of this committee and have the right to agree with (or disagree with) your child’s placement. To learn more about what to do when you disagree with your child's placement, see our When You’re Having Trouble Getting the Right Services for Your Child page.
Here are some educational settings your child could have:
Each school district is going to offer its own set of special education programs and services, and the names of these programs will be different. However, here are 4 examples of programs often delivered in specialized settings that we thought you should know about:
Every classroom will reflect the style of the teacher as well as the needs of the students in it. Visits can help you see if the classroom is set up to support your child’s mobility, sensory, or other needs.
Are computers, classroom materials, desks, and any assistive devices easy to reach and use? It might give you confidence to ask your child’s teacher these and other questions during a tour – and work with them if you have concerns.
“Your child’s educational placement should be determined by their needs, not just which services the school has to offer.”