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U.S. Department of Education: Promoting Educational Excellence for all Americans

Placements (Sec. 300.116)

Comment: One commenter recommended the regulations clarify that the regular class must always be considered the first placement option.

Discussion: We do not believe it is necessary to include the clarification recommended by the commenter. Section 300.116 clarifies that placement decisions must be made in conformity with the LRE provisions, and Sec. 300.114(a)(2) already requires that special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment only occurs 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.

Changes: None.

Comment: A few commenters recommended revising Sec. 300.116 to require that children with disabilities have access to, and make progress in, the general curriculum, and that children receive the special education and related services included in their IEPs.

Discussion: The issues raised by the commenters are already addressed elsewhere in the regulations. The IEP requirements in Sec. 300.320(a), consistent with section 614(d) of the Act, clarify that children with disabilities must be provided special education and related services and needed supplementary aids and services to enable them to be involved in and make progress in the general curriculum. In addition, Sec. 300.323(c)(2) requires that, as soon as possible following the development of an IEP, special education and related services are made available to the child in accordance with the child's IEP. We believe that these regulations adequately address the commenters' concerns, and that no further clarification is necessary.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter stated that the placement requirements in Sec. 300.116 encourage school districts to assign a child with a disability to a particular place or setting, rather than providing a continuum of increasingly individualized and intensive services. The commenter suggested requiring that the continuum of alternative placements include a progressively more intensive level of individualized, scientifically based instruction and related services, both with increased time and lower pupil-teacher ratio, in addition to regular instruction with supplementary aids and services.

Discussion: The overriding rule in Sec. 300.116 is that placement decisions for all children with disabilities must be made on an individual basis and ensure that each child with a disability is educated in the school the child would attend if not disabled unless the child's IEP requires some other arrangement. However, the Act does not require that every child with a disability be placed in the regular classroom regardless of individual abilities and needs. This recognition that regular class placement may not be appropriate for every child with a disability is reflected in the requirement that LEAs make available a range of placement options, known as a continuum of alternative placements, to meet the unique educational needs of children 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 child with a disability. The options on this continuum must include the alternative placements listed in the definition of special education under Sec. 300.38 (instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions). These options must be available to the extent necessary to implement the IEP of each child with a disability. The group determining the placement must select the placement option on the continuum in which it determines that the child's IEP can be implemented in the LRE. Any alternative placement selected for the child outside of the regular educational environment must include appropriate opportunities for the child to interact with nondisabled peers, to the extent appropriate to the needs of the children, consistent with Sec. 300.114(a)(2)(i).

Because placement decisions must be determined on an individual case-by-case basis depending on each child's unique educational needs and circumstances and based on the child's IEP, we do not believe it is appropriate to require in the regulations that the continuum of alternative placements include a progressively more intensive level of individualized scientifically based instruction and related services as suggested by the commenter.

Changes: None.

Comment: We received a number of comments regarding the phrase, "unless the parent agrees otherwise" in proposed Sec. 300.116(b)(3) and (c). As proposed, Sec. 300.116(b)(3) requires the child's placement to be as close as possible to the child's home, "unless the parent agrees otherwise;" and Sec. 300.116(c) requires that, unless the child's IEP requires some other arrangement, the child must be educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled, "unless the parent agrees otherwise." Many commenters requested removing the phrase "unless the parent agrees otherwise," because it is not included in section 612(a)(5) of the Act and is not necessary to clarify that a parent may place his or her child in a charter, magnet, or other specialized school without violating the LRE requirements. Other commenters suggested removing the phrase and clarifying that a decision by the child's parent to send the child to a charter, magnet, or other specialized school is not a violation of the LRE requirements.

Several commenters stated that including the phrase undermines the statutory requirement for children with disabilities to be placed in the LRE based on their IEPs and allows more restrictive placements based on parental choice. Many commenters interpreted this phrase to mean that placement is a matter of parental choice even in public school settings and stated that a child's LRE rights should not be overridden by parental choice. One commenter stated that the phrase might intimidate parents into accepting inappropriate placements.

A few commenters stated that this phrase is unnecessary because the Act already requires parents to be involved in placement decisions, and expressed concern that including this phrase in the regulations could lead to confusion and litigation. One commenter stated that the phrase suggests that additional consent is required if the parent chooses to send the child to a charter, magnet, or other specialized school.

Discussion: The phrase "unless the parent agrees otherwise" in proposed Sec. 300.116(b)(3) and (c) was added to clarify that a parent may send the child to a charter, magnet, or other specialized school without violating the LRE mandate. A parent has always had this option; a parent who chooses this option for the child does not violate the LRE mandate as long as the child is educated with his or her peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. However, we agree that this phrase is unnecessary, confusing, and may be misunderstood to mean that parents have a right to veto the placement decision made by the group of individuals in Sec. 300.116(a)(1). We will, therefore, remove the phrase.

Changes: We have removed the phrase "unless the parent agrees otherwise" in Sec. 300.116(b)(3) and (c).

Comment: One commenter disagreed with the requirement in Sec. 300.116(b)(3) that placements be as close as possible to the child's home, stating that the requirement is administratively prohibitive and beyond the scope of the Act. The commenter stated that it is not possible for school districts to provide classes for children with all types and degrees of disabilities in each school building. The commenter stated that "placement" should be understood as the set of services outlined in a child's IEP, and recommended that school districts be permitted to provide these services in the school building that is most administratively feasible.

Discussion: We do not believe the requirement imposes unduly restrictive administrative requirements. The Department has consistently maintained that a child with a disability should be educated in a school as close to the child's home as possible, unless the services identified in the child's IEP require a different location. Even though the Act does not mandate that a child with a disability be educated in the school he or she would normally attend if not disabled, section 612(a)(5)(A) of the Act presumes that the first placement option considered for each child with a disability is the regular classroom in the school that the child would attend if not disabled, with appropriate supplementary aids and services to facilitate such placement. Thus, before a child with a disability can be placed outside of the regular educational environment, the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to facilitate the child's placement in the regular classroom setting must be considered. Following that consideration, if a determination is made that a particular child with a disability cannot be educated satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, even with the provision of appropriate supplementary aids and services, that child could be placed in a setting other than the regular classroom.

Although the Act does not require that each school building in an LEA be able to provide all the special education and related services for all types and severities of disabilities, the LEA has an obligation to make available a full continuum of alternative placement options that maximize opportunities for its children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled peers to the extent appropriate. In all cases, placement decisions must be individually determined on the basis of each child's abilities and needs and each child's IEP, and not solely on factors such as category of disability, severity of disability, availability of special education and related services, configuration of the service delivery system, availability of space, or administrative convenience.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter requested clarifying the difference, if any, between "placement" and "location." One commenter recommended requiring the child's IEP to include a detailed explanation of why a child's educational needs cannot be met in the location requested by the parent when the school district opposes the parent's request for services to be provided to the child in the school that the child would attend if the child did not have a disability.

Discussion: Historically, we have referred to "placement" as points along the continuum of placement options available for a child with a disability, and "location" as the physical surrounding, such as the classroom, in which a child with a disability receives special education and related services. Public agencies are strongly encouraged to place a child with a disability in the school and classroom the child would attend if the child did not have a disability. However, a public agency may have two or more equally appropriate locations that meet the child's special education and related services needs and school administrators should have the flexibility to assign the child to a particular school or classroom, provided that determination is consistent with the decision of the group determining placement. It also should be noted that, under section 615(b)(3) of the Act, a parent must be given written prior notice that meets the requirements of Sec. 300.503 a reasonable time before a public agency implements a proposal or refusal to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child, or the provision of FAPE to the child. Consistent with this notice requirement, parents of children with disabilities must be informed that the public agency is required to have a full continuum of placement options, as well as about the placement options that were actually considered and the reasons why those options were rejected. While public agencies have an obligation under the Act to notify parents regarding placement decisions, there is nothing in the Act that requires a detailed explanation in children's IEPs of why their educational needs or educational placements cannot be met in the location the parents' request. We believe including such a provision would be overly burdensome for school administrators and diminish their flexibility to appropriately assign a child to a particular school or classroom, provided that the assignment is made consistent with the child's IEP and the decision of the group determining placement.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter recommended including in the regulations the Department's policy that a child's placement in an educational program that is substantially and materially similar to the former placement is not a change in placement.

Discussion: As stated by the commenter, it is the Department's longstanding position that maintaining a child's placement in an educational program that is substantially and materially similar to the former placement is not a change in placement. We do not believe further clarification is necessary in the regulations, however, as the distinction seems to be commonly accepted and understood.

Changes: None.

Comment: Many commenters suggested requiring a public agency to pay all costs associated with providing FAPE for a child in a private preschool, including paying for tuition, transportation and such special education, related services and supplementary aids and services as the child needs, if an inclusive preschool is the appropriate placement for a child, and there is no inclusive public preschool that can provide all the appropriate services and supports.

Discussion: The LRE requirements in Sec. Sec. 300.114 through 300.118 apply to all children with disabilities, including preschool children who are entitled to FAPE. Public agencies that do not operate programs for preschool children without disabilities are not required to initiate those programs solely to satisfy the LRE requirements of the Act. Public agencies that do not have an inclusive public preschool that can provide all the appropriate services and supports must explore alternative methods to ensure that the LRE requirements are met. Examples of such alternative methods might include placement options in private preschool programs or other community-based settings. Paying for the placement of qualified preschool children with disabilities in a private preschool with children without disabilities is one, but not the only, option available to public agencies to meet the LRE requirements. We believe the regulations should allow public agencies to choose an appropriate option to meet the LRE requirements. However, if a public agency determines that placement in a private preschool program is necessary as a means of providing special education and related services to a child with a disability, the program must be at no cost to the parent of the child.

Changes: None.

Comment: One commenter suggested clarifying that if a child's behavior in the regular classroom significantly impairs the learning of the child or others, that placement would not meet the child's needs and would not be appropriate for that child.

Discussion: Although the Act places a strong preference in favor of educating children with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, a regular classroom placement is not appropriate for every child with a disability. Placement decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and must be appropriate for the needs of the child. The courts have generally concluded that, if a child with a disability has behavioral problems that are so disruptive in a regular classroom that the education of other children is significantly impaired, the needs of the child with a disability generally cannot be met in that environment. However, before making such a determination, LEAs must ensure that consideration has been given to the full range of supplementary aids and services that could be provided to the child in the regular educational environment to accommodate the unique needs of the child with a disability. If the group making the placement decision determines, that even with the provision of supplementary aids and services, the child's IEP could not be implemented satisfactorily in the regular educational environment, that placement would not be the LRE placement for that child at that particular time, because her or his unique educational needs could not be met in that setting. (See Roncker v. Walter, 700 F.2d 1058 (6th Cir. 1983); Devries v. Fairfax County School Bd., 882 F.2d 876, 879 (4th Cir. 1989); Daniel R.R. v. State Bd. of Educ., 874 F.2d 1036 (5th Cir. 1989); and A.W. v. Northwest R-1 School Dist., 813 F.2d 158, 163 (8th Cir. 1987).)

Changes: None.