Learning for Tomorrow NJ

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

NJ ARC Link