The pros and cons of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

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The least restrictive environment, also called “mainstreaming” is the main classroom with non-disabled peers and is considered preferable for all students.

Unfortunately the LRE suggestion makes it easier for schools to deny the greater expense of the direct instruction that many special needs kids need to learn meaningfully. I have heard school administrators deny parents request for one-on-one instruction and small classroom instruction, with the excuse “we are obligated to educate your child in the least restrictive environment. Taking him out of his regular class and putting him in a small classroom, will restrict him from being with his peers”.

Of course all parents want their children to learn in the most “normal” environment possible and have ample opportunities to make friends, or “socialize.” But, if the child is in all mainstreamed classes and is not really learning and absorbing the curriculum, what good does that do?

I have experienced parents who want their child mainstreamed at all costs. I disagree with them IF the child doesn’t learn in the larger classroom. My personal priority is that my child learns the academic curriculum. Socializing can be adequately be done with family or otherwise in the community.

Allowing Evaluations Despite Distrust

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When you disagree with your school district about your child’s needs – and dialogue between you and the school gets tense, it is easy to distrust the school. And you usually have reason to distrust them. They often lie, deceive, delay, and manipulate parents in order to withhold services.

It can be tempting to refuse to allow your district to evaluate your child at a triennial or other evaluation they may suggest. You may fear that they will manipulate the data or the tests themselves. This is understandable. I recommend against refusing to allow an evaluation for a few reasons:

If the staff is competent, you can often get good information from school evals. You can bring them to a private evaluator and ask for his or her thoughts based on the information from the school. Often an outside professional can glean valuable information from reviewing the current evaluations which will support your desires for your child.

Also, if, for any reason, you don’t agree with the school’s evaluations, you are entitled to an Independent Educational Evaluation at the school’s expense. This Independent evaluation can be invaluable in obtaining unbiased and crucial information about your child to help develop a good IEP.

Finally, if your disagreement goes to a due process hearing, parents who don’t allow the school adequate access to your child to obtain information, often will not prevail because they are perceived by the hearing officer as uncooperative, obstructing the school’s ability to understand your child’s needs.

Don’t be afraid to let your school district evaluate your child. Even if they have been devious and deceptive. You are not giving away power to them – but gaining more ammunition to create a strong, compelling case for your child.

How Do They Sleep at Night?

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I try to be mature and professional in my blog. But sometimes I have to just call it like I see it. Special Education Directors who toy with families, try to manipulate parents, who lie about a special needs child’s progress just to move him/her along and reveling in getting away with the least amount of educational benefit they can get away with and remain barely within the law, are the cruelist and lowest lifeforms on the planet.

I know those of you who have experienced this agree. You are not alone!

But they can be made to do the right thing – it just takes knowhow. I have been a successful advocate for many years now – and I hate to say it, but some of my greatest teachers have been these horrible special education administrators and their  evil attorneys.

Make Your Case – Don’t Get Mad

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When you hear recommendations from your school district for your child’s education that are inadequate, don’t get mad! Instead, put anger aside and find the holes in their recommendations. You will find them, and when you do, you can obtain a good program for your child.

An example:

A parent who had homeschooled her child due to disagreements with the school, allowed the school district to do a triennial evaluation on the child after the three years of homeschooling.  The evaluation was done during an eight week in-school diagnostic period.

Once the diagnostic period was completed, and the school reported its results, the parents believed the results of the evaluation were insufficient to create an appropriate IEP for the child.

A major deficiency was the fact that the school evaluation team had failed to assess and determine the child’s ability to walk in school. The student used a wheelchair, but could walk fairly well in her walker. The parents, rightly, expected the school to provide opportunities for the student to walk with her peers for part of the school day. But the school team developed an IEP that failed to have any walking as part of her school day.

This was a major oversight on the part of the school evaluators. When the parents questioned this, the school team indicated that it was unrealistic and inefficient for the child to walk in school.

At the PPT, the parent (who was furious) asked the school physical therapist, who was responsible for gross motor activities (like walking) if she (the physical therapist) had observed the student walking in school at all. The physical therapist answered truthfully “no”. On behalf of the parent I asked “do you think it would have given you important information if you had allowed the child to try to walk in school a few times?” The Physical therapist got defensive and said that she did not think the child should walk in school as it would be too onerous, difficult, time consuming and all that. The parent was frustrated and angry.

But we remembered that before the parents had taken the child out of school to homeschool the student walking in school every morning. She walked several hundred feet every day – and IT WAS DOCUMENTED ON HER IEPs. The physical therapist had said in her evaluation report that she had observed and assessed the child in school as well as examined her prior school records. At the PPT we asked what the physical therapist remembered reading in the prior school records? She couldn’t answer. Do you recall that the child was walking in school?” She said feebly, “Well I will have to review the records”.

We pulled out the last IEPs of the child which stated clearly that the child had walked every day in school.

Walking became part of the child’s IEP.

When parents get angry and frustrated with the school, they often overlook strong evidence to support their requests for their child. As an advocate, I was able to step back and look dispassionately for evidence to support the parent’s case.