In last week’s post, we analyzed the term “appropriate,” regarding its limitations. I will now discuss positive elements of what constitutes “appropriate.” According to IDEA 300.114 (available online at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/34/300.114),
(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled;
This mandate is commonly referred to as the LRE or Least Restrictive Environment. Most everyone agrees that exceptional students ought to staybe with their regular peers where possible. However, since every child has unique needs and the overall impact to the class environment must be considered, the LRE decision can prove very complex. Furthermore, parents’ emotional desire to have the best for their child can also complicates the issue. Some want very much for their child to be “‘normal,”’ while others want to have all the helps possible. Although these desires are understandable, they often don’t not yield the desired results in practice, since they are both limited by set ideas as to what is best.
A more effective model for supporting a special needs child is a mentality of flexible learning on the go that addresses the current needs of each child. In other words, a growth mindset. We are dynamic beings in a dynamic environment. Consequently, it is ineffective to approaching education or life with a fixed mentality regarding our capabilities limits us – and the exceptional learner - greatly.
As an example, several years ago I assisted a first- grader who, because of behavior issues, had been selected for IEP evaluation. During the first quarter, I spent most of the time seated in a separate area with this child doing one- on- one tutoring using modified class materials. As we built a relationship, and as I put solid structures in place, we gradually transitioned during the second and third quarters to being in the classroom with his peers, and gradually transitioned into ‘regular’ coursework. During the fourth quarter, he was so successful that the teacher and I, in communication with the rest of the IEP team, opted for minimal continuing support since the child successfully self-regulated most of the time and was able to become a successful contributor in class. Having a growth mindset about this student’s capabilities and potential, as well as a solid scaffolding structure based on his needs, allowed him to soar over the course of a year.
Admittedly, not every child can achieve the same levels of academic growth. However, for any growth to take place and even a change in LRE to become possible, the assumption on the part of caretakers and educators must be that the child can learn and grow. This expectation must also be clearly communicated to the child.
In closing, the best approach to determining LRE is to honestly evaluate what is best currently for the exceptional child, as well as the students around that child. Although it may be possible to place an exceptional student in with ‘regular’ peers, it may not be the wisest option. This initial placement should be subject to frequent informal evaluation and continuallybe adjusted based on the student’s rate of growth.