Top 5 Special Education Placement Myths

Special education was once considered a place or location, but that misconception is no longer true. Special education is individualized, research-based services and instructional techniques. Below are the top 5 placement misconceptions.

What is Least Restrictive Environment?

“When determining the restrictiveness of particular program option, such determinations are based solely on the amount of time student with disabilities is 
educated outside the general education setting.”N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(11)

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) ensures that all students spend as much of the school day as possible with their peers. While this may be a great fit for a majority of students with disabilities, the general education classroom is not always a perfect choice. As an administrator, teachers often explained that a student was placed in their general education classroom just to justify moving him or her back to a pull-out resource program later. This was done because of the belief that the student needs to not be successful in order to be placed in a more restrictive environment. Placing a special education in a least restictive envornment involves a discussion about the student’s strengths and weaknesses, along with past successful experiances. Placing a student in a placement that is not appropriate just to check a placement off a list of options is NEVER appropriate.

Modifications Do NOT Limit Placement

Do not make placement choices based on the modifications a student receives. A student can receive any curriculum modifications in any placement. There is no “threshold of requirements for entrance” to be educated with non-disabled peers.

According to N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(9) the law requires that student will not be removed from an age-appropriategeneral education classroom solely because he/she requires modifications to the general education curriculum. N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.6(i) removes the previous requirement that student must meet the regular education curriculum requirements to be in an in-class resource program.

All Learners with ___________ Classification Should be Together, Always!

Placing students that have a specific disability in the same class often leads to lumping students together rather than creating individual goals and objectives. There are even educators that will write the same goals and objectives for all students based on the need of their classmates. Please remember to have the IEP team focus on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses, rather than a classification. The focus should always be on individual programs!

We Don’t Do THAT!

This belief removes the brainstorming process and freedom of special education planning. There is no support that should be ignored. If the service provides an opportunity for success and is researched based, it should be considered.

N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.3(a)requires that“all students”must be considered for placement in the general education classroom with supplementary aids and services and provides list of supports to be considered, 
pointing out the list is not exhaustive.
A sample of supplementary supports (N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.3):
  •  Curricularorinstructionalmodificationsor specialized instruction strategies
  •  Individual instruction
  •  AssistiveTechnologydevicesandservices
  •  Teacher aides
  •  Related services
  •  Integrated therapies
  •  Consultation services
  •  In-class resource programs
He Was in a Self-Contained Classroom Last Year
A student’s past placement cannot be the sole reason for their placement the following year.
IEP teams must annually “consider activities necessary to transition student to less
restrictive placement.”N.J.A.C.6A:14-4.2(a)(4)
This requires all IEP team members to be aware of a variety of placements available for a student. The student’s needs may change as the curriculum and transition process impacts a student’s future. Be open to exploring new options in and out of the school district.
Placement options are one of the highest IEP team disagreements. Parents feel a lot of pressure to ensure that their child is learning in the correct environment and the school wants to feel confident that the placement option is in the best interest of the child. Take time to visit a variety of placement options together with the CST team so that you can discuss your observations and create a dialogue about fears and misconceptions.

Person Centered Approach to Schools and Transitions- How is it Different?

Planning for a student’s future is the most important job a school district has. This process must include a healthy relationship between all sides of the table. IEP meetings can become very intense. Parents are often anxious regarding the future of their child and school districts want to provide the right services with their available resources. I have been attending IEP meetings for years and I have seen transition planning meetings become an overwhelming experience for all.

As an administrator and teacher, I have seen some transition planning processes that are very well thought out and thorough. Others lacked depth, individuality, and knowledge of available services. One of the best methods of planning for any child’s future is Person Centered Approach to Schools and Transitions (PCAST). I attended a one-day seminar provided by the NJ Department of Education and I was hooked. I immediately ran into the director’s office and begged to have them come to our district for training.

“A person-centered plan can help those involved with the focus person see the total person, recognize his or her desires and interests, and discover completely new ways of thinking about the future of the person.” — Beth Mount & Kay Zwernik, 1988. This is a slight variation on adult person-centered planning that has been done for years.

If you are just starting the planning process or if you are experiencing unexpected struggles, PCAST may be your answer. The main premise of the program is to identify what is important to the learner and what is important for the learner. There is a heavy emphasis on student-led meetings. For students that may have never attended their own IEP meeting, simply being present and having input on any topic is a great start.

The physical experience of a PCAST meeting is also different. The table is removed and staff, parents, student, and friends sit in a semi-circle around an array of poster paper. All attendees ideas and planning maps are documented on the poster board. A mediator is recommended to document the collaboration process. Laptops are not encouraged. Everything should be written for all to see. This eliminates the my side and their side discomfort. Everyone, including the student, is physically focused on the needs and future of the learner. At a training I attended, it was highly recommended to play uplifting background music before the meeting and to offer snacks. This keeps the mood light and positive.

The student has a say in the people that attend the meeting. They can recommend a group of people that know them the best, such as classmates, neighbors, friend’s parents, employers, and more. All attendees complete a questionnaire about the student. The main focus of the entire meeting is what the learner is able to do. There is no dwelling on test scores that only identify limits. This meeting, while acknowledging the negative, moves the focus to how to support the student’s strengths and goals.

To request a PCAST meeting the first step for a parent is to discuss this option with your case manager or district director of student services. The district may need time to arrange for additional training for their staff. The training is often free of charge. The second step is to begin to involve your student in decision-making processes if they are not involved already. Remember, this meeting will not result in a final product. The transition planning is an ongoing process. Many of the self-advocacy skills can be developed in the classroom and at home. Ensure that the student’s desires are respected and to not be afraid to look deeper into their desires to determine what needs to be accomplished to bring their future to fruition.

Videos, webinars, and additional links are provided below.

PCAST link

NJ DOE Video Link


Why a 1:1 Aide May Not Be the Answer

Many students that struggle are assigned a 1:1 aide as a form of support to access their educational and social needs. While some can truly benefit from consistent 1:1 support, others can be negatively impacted.


Many 1:1 aides are wonderful people dedicated to the children they support. They want only the best for the school and the families that they work with. They may assist in the provision of special education and related services under the supervision of a qualified teacher or related service provider, such as:

  • provide instruction for small group instruction
  • implement positive behavior support interventions
  • facilitate social interaction between peers with and without disabilities


The expanded utilization of paraprofessionals in instructional roles is NOT based on data that suggest students with disabilities do as well or better educationally with paraprofessionals than they do with special educators or general education teachers. Nowhere does the literature present a strong conceptual or theoretical rationale that explains the practice of assigning the least qualified staff member (aides) to make critical decisions and provide primary instruction for students with the most complex needs (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000); Giangreco & Broer, 2005).

Well-meaning assistants tend to maintain too close proximity with students.  They often maintain regular physical contact, sitting immediately next to a student, and accompanying the student everywhere. While select students may need this level of help, many do not. Such proximity can be detrimental to the students. They may learn to rely on this level of assistance and peers avoid students due to the presence of an adult.

If the IEP does not teach the student skills to become independent, it may be denial of FAPE. Especially if the aide’s constant presence fostered learned helplessness, which prevents student from learning to function on their own.

Individual 1:1 help can have far-reaching effects on the following:

  • Classroom teacher’s ability to assume ownership for the student
  • The frequency and types of peer interaction
  • The student’s ability to become an independent learner
  • Interfere with natural supports (peers)
  • Loss of privacy
  • Isolation

Teacher Role Becomes Clouded

When the 1:1 aide is seen as the adult in charge of a supporting the student, they can easily turn into the adult in charge of every aspect of the child’s school experience. Many times teachers, counselors, administrators, and parents resort to addressing the aide and not the child.

  • Experienced, skilled teachers defer important curricular, instruction and management decisions about a student to the paraprofessional
  • Curriculum modification and adaptation may be left up to the paraprofessional
  • Extra paraprofessionals may be viewed as the “expert” in understanding the student’s needs.

Change the Conversation

  • Focus on the needs of the student to develop independence. Identify when the aide is necessary and teach specific support strategies to eventually fade the aide when/ if appropriate.
  • Implement instructional/behavioral strategies prior to considering additional assistance.
  • Can the support be provided by sharing an aide with another student? This will allow for more independence while still having staff available when needed. If the students are in the same class and have similar levels of needs, this option can be very beneficial.

Independence Plan

Develop a system for addressing a request for assistance (not a 1:1 Assistant).

  • Current supports
  • Schedule for assistance
  • Goals
  • Fade assistance as soon as independence increases

Every Child is Unique

Every student has has unique needs that will need to be addressed on an individualized basis. When making decisions it is important to understand that their are often many solutions to help overcome challenges. While a 1:1 aide may help some, it may over support another. Finding balance is often the largest challenge in helping our children become happy adults.

What are your experiences with 1:1 support?

Does Your Child Have A Positive Behavior Plan?

Does your child struggle with behaviors that others may not understand? Is your child constantly being punished?

All IEPs allocate a portion to discuss behavior plans that may be needed for a student. More often than not, many of the strategies are progressively punitive. This means that the first step is moving from green to red, the the next consequence will result in removing a portion of the day that the student finds enjoyable, and so on. While a small group of students may find this effective, there is very little research that punitive actions will replace bad behavior.

Here are tips to consider if your child’s behavior is impacting their education.

  • What is the function of the behavior? Many behavioralist would argue that all behaviors have an antecedent. This means that behaviors (good or bad) are done for a reason. In and ideal situation, if the antecedents are addressed, the behaviors should no longer be present. Consider having an Functional Behavior Analysis done to help identify the function of the behavior. These assessments can be done by a behavioralist and can be paid for by the school district. The observation component will be done in various settings.
  • Is the behavior a result of the child’s disability? Many factors should be considered when making this determination. Do not wait until the behavior has become an issue and the student is now being considered for school-wide consequences. This can be considered during an FBA and sharing information about the disability that impacts your child’s behavior can be helpful. This is when a good relationship with the CST helps. Don’t be afraid to provide additional research to parents, teachers, and case managers. No one can possibly read every piece of research that is available. Having discussions prior to a manifestation determination meetings can be very impactful.
  • Is your child ever rewarded for doing what is right? More and more schools are moving towards Multi-teired Systems of Supports (MTSS). One of the models is Positive Behavior Supports in Schools (PBSIS). This program should be done on a school-wide level and then additional supports should be provided to students, classified or not, to help them find strategies for replacing negative behavior with positive. Many schools use a token reward system where students are provided with a ticket when they are “caught” following the school rules. This reinforces positive choices.
  • Be consistent! One of the major struggles with parents and teachers is to find balance between everyday unavoidable occurrences and structure. If the behavior was wrong yesterday, it is wrong today, and it will be wrong tomorrow. Work with a behavioralist to determine the best method of building continuity between home and school.
  • Teach your expectations. Teaching expected behavior is often over looked, especially as children become older. It is assumed that they should know appropriate behavior. Teachers, school staff, and family members should teach and model appropriate behaviors in a variety of environments.

To help your child, communication is invaluable. Sharing inform about your child and how their disability impacts their behavior will help to avoid unnecessary punitive consequences. Focus on your child’s strengths and reinforce when they exhibit appropriate behavior.

Remember that a child’s worth is not determined through their behavior. Identify the behavior as good or bad, if necessary, but never the child.

Sometimes Recess is a Child’s Most Difficult Class

While many people remember recess being their favorite class period, it can often result in unmanageable chaos for children. Even a simple game of tag can result in non-verbalized rules and social skills that can be difficult to navigate. The whole concept of tag is for one child to chase another at a fast pace and then suddenly slow their speed and touch another child in a manner that will not harm other players. While doing all of that, they must also pay attention to physical hazards, children, and the reaction of others. The game of tag is the 90’s version of a merry go round. You know, the spinning top that encourages children to sit on the end and hold on for dear life!

Establish Clear Expectations 

If your child or a group of students are struggling during recess there are many options to alleviate the challenges. The first, most important step, is to establish clear expectations. Not only should they be spoken and written, but role playing can be very effective. Model and teach the children how to appropriately play with one another using the space and equipment available. This can be done during class time and before open play.

Available Staff

The second step is to ensure ample staff are available to support student learning. Staff should be open to playing with the children to model appropriate behavior and ongoing encouragement. All staff should have the same expectations and understand how to manage student behaviors. Clear procedures for when students need to be removed to reflect on their behavior should also be planned.

Positive Behavior Supports 

The third step is to incorporate positive reinforcements. Positive reinforcements should be used to reinforce appropriate behavior. Positive Behavior Supports in Schools is a program supported on the NJ Department of Education and is available on the state website. PBSIS is used in schools throughout the country to offer discipline solutions using a positive approach.Tickets, tokens, or a simple smile and kind word can sometimes be enough to build a relationship with a child. Once that relationship is established, the easier it will be to build a support system.

I often see students that struggle assigned 1:1 aides to support during unstructured time. While there is always a time and place for aides, 1:1 aides can create an unnatural environment for young children to bond and maneuver social skills. More often, I find that the child and the 1:1 aide are sitting or playing together rather than the student integrating with their peers. If a 1:1 aide is used, consider when and how fading the support could be beneficial.


What is ESY and is it Right for My Child?

ESY or Extended School Year is an option for many children with specialized education plans.  Many people think of ESY as a form of summer school or tutoring to better prepare their child for September and maybe even make gains! This is not always accurate.

What is ESY?

While ESY is designed to prepare your child for September, it is not an expectation that students will make significant gains. In fact, ESY is designed to help students maintain skills that were taught throughout the year. This decision to attend ESY is made by the IEP team on an individual basis. The ESY services should be at no cost to the parents. Preschoolers that are classified as Preschool Disabled are also eligible to attend. According to NJ State Code,


“An extended school year program is provided in accordance with the student’s IEP when an interruption in educational programming causes the student’s performance to revert to a lower level of functioning and recoupment cannot be expected in a reasonable length of time.” 
Is your child eligible for ESY?
If you feel that your child would benefit from ESY, the IEP team will consider all relevant factors. One of the larger considerations will be the amount of time your child needs to recoup information after an extended break. How many hours does it take your child to relearn December’s lessons after winter break? Is your child struggling with June’s mastered goals September through November?
Please note, districts cannot limit ESY services to particular categories of disability or limit the type, amount, or duration of those services. Your child does not have to receive services in a specific placement to be eligible for ESY. Related services and transportation should be considered as an additional supports throughout the ESY session.


From the point of view of the district, if you agree to attend ESY it is in the best interest of your child and the program to attend as much as possible. Children often benefit from routine. ESY programs tend to run on shortened days and with different students. Attendance every day will ensure a comfortable learning environment. Classes without 1-2 students that are scheduled to have 10 waste school funds by having extra teachers on staff and ordering excessive materials.
For more information one ESY for this summer, contact your district, case manager, or teacher.