FAQ: One-on-one assistants and LRE for students with disabilities

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ECACCross-posted with permission from our friends at Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC). ECAC is a Regional Parent Technical Assistance Center and the Parent Training and Information Center in North Carolina serving families of children with disabilities, their teachers, and other professionals. Visit ECAC’s website at http://www.ecac-parentcenter.org/Default.aspx to access free publications, training opportunities, and other resources, and be sure to check out their Ask ECAC blog (http://askecac.org/).

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Question:  Is having a one-on-one assistant the “most restrictive” setting for a student with a disability?

Answer:  No. The type of support that a student requires has nothing to do with the degree to which her educational placement is considered to be “restrictive” under IDEA, the Federal special education law.

What does IDEA say?

IDEA requires that students with disabilities are served in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) where their needs can be successfully met.  The continuum of alternative educational placements that goes from least restrictive to most restrictive is based on the amount of time that the student is removed from the regular education setting and  non-disabled peers.  The continuum includes the following placement options: Regular, Resource, Separate, Separate School, Residential, Home/Hospital.  Each step along the continuum reflects less and less contact with typical children, and would be considered to be more restrictive than the ones listed before it and less restrictive than the ones listed after it.

Children can receive special education services in the regular education classroom, in a special education classroom or therapy room, or in the total school environment.  Some students receive a lot of special education services, accommodations and supports in the regular education setting and are not removed from their non-disabled peers at all.  This would still be considered to be the least restrictive placement on the continuum.

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The truth about LRE

Some parents who ask about a one-on-one assistant for their child are told that this kind of individual support would be the most restrictive setting for their child, and that moving the child into a separate classroom or separate school would actually be less restrictive.  This is simply not true, and probably reflects a lack of information on the part of the person making that statement.

If this happens to you, talk to someone who would be expected to have a greater understanding of special education rules and regulations.  Even if you have to speak with the Director of Exceptional Children’s services (or whatever title your state or district calls the head of special education) for your entire school system, it will be good for them to know that there is a need to correct misinformation.  This may not get a one-on-one assistant for your child, but at least the decision would not be made for the wrong reason.  The IEP team has an obligation to consider the use of supplementary aids and services that could increase the amount of time that a child with a disability would be able to be educated with non-disabled children.
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NOTICE: NICHCY is going away, but its resources are not. Find hundreds of legacy NICHCY publications, as well as our training curriculum on IDEA 2004, in the Center for Parent Information and Resources' Library at http://www.parentcenterhub.org/resources. This website will remain available until September 30, 2014. After that date, web visitors will be automatically redirected to http://www.parentcenterhub.org.