Setting for Individualized Services

Think of the least restrictive environment on a continuum from full inclusion with peers to home instruction. The mandate is to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment in which progress can be made.

Inclusion is the gold standard and is accepted as a best practice. Most students with mild disabilities spend the majority of their day in the general education setting with their typical peers. Students may be assigned a full- or part-time instructional assistant to help them with their assignments. Some students, particularly those with learning disabilities, may spend time in a resource room for direct instruction.

If a student is not able to learn in a fully inclusive situation, the special education team may decide to try the student in a more restrictive setting, usually partial inclusion. As the name implies, partial inclusion is when the student with disabilities participates in the general education setting for part of the day and receives the bulk of academic instruction in a pull-out classroom, such as the resource room, with the special education teacher or other staff.

Some students require life-skills based academics due to the severity of their disabilities. Such students are usually assigned to a self-contained classroom where they will spend at least 60% of their school day working directly with the special education staff. These students may or may not participate in the general education classroom with typical peers.

If a student is unable to function within the general education classroom and/or the special education classroom, the team's next step is to consider placing the student at a school specializing in the education of children with extreme disabilities. The trend during the 1990s was to move away from this model, as previous research pointed to academic and behavioral growth among these students when taught via individualized instruction within the general setting.

If the student has a very severe health condition or is not able to attend school for some other reason, he or she will receive instruction at home. A special education teacher, staff and related service providers go to the student's home to deliver instruction.

The highest level of restrictive placement is institutionalization. When the student's needs are such that he or she cannot function in any of the less restrictive environments, residential placement must be considered by the team. Very few students in the United States today are in residential placement. The goal is usually to get the student to a point where they are able to return to the public school campus, if at all possible.