Some people might think that after the IEP has been signed on the dotted line, the process is done, and they can wash their hands of the whole thing. This is simply not true…..some very important things still remain in the process. An IEP should tell us exactly what a student needs in terms of services and support. But, another important aspect of special education is a child’s PLACEMENT……where can a child’s IEP be implemented in the most appropriate way? It may be that a child can be in the regular classroom setting in their neighborhood school with extra support in the classroom from a special education teacher or specialist. Or, a child might need a more specialized program that your local school does not offer. If that is the case, the school needs to look at what other schools in the district can provide that program, create the program themselves, or look to an out of district placement to provide it.
The law provides for a “continuum of alternative learning environments”. This means, depending on the needs, a child could be placed anywhere from a regular classroom to a very restrictive placement such as a residential setting. You may have heard the word “inclusion” before……meaning that students with disabilities are fully mainstreamed and included into the regular classroom. This is a philosophy……not a mandate. All children with disabilities DO NOT have to be included in the regular classroom at all times no matter what. Some people believe that inclusion is the best philosophy, and will try to fit all students into this construct. But the law actually says that a child with a disability should be included into the regular classroom to the “maximum extent appropriate”. For some children, full inclusion into a regular classroom might not be the most appropriate learning environment. It might be best for a student to receive some pull out services. Or, it might mean they need so much specialized instruction, that an alternative day placement might make the most sense. This is exactly why the law provides for a “continuum”.
Placement is determined by the team, and should be based on what program can most appropriately fulfill the needs in the IEP for each individual child. Placement is another step that needs consent from a parent. You will need to sign approval for a placement decision. This also means that a child’s placement can not be changed, without consent of the parent. Here is a scenario for you….a child is “placed” in a regular education classroom 100% of the time with an aide. The student has some behavioral issues, and goes to a “planning room” or “quiet space” when they have a major outburst in class. If that child starts being taken to this room every single day and spends time there every single day, and is out of the regular classroom often, this could be considered a change in placement, because they are no longer spending 100% of the time in a regular classroom. The parent would need to be notified and a meeting called, to review the IEP and make the appropriate changes. This happens a lot, and parents need to be aware of the daily goings on of their kiddos in school, to assure that the child is receiving appropriate services according to their IEP and placement.