Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper

Memo
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
I. INTRODUCTION
II. RESPONSIBILITIES
III. MOVING TOWARD AN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM THAT ACCOMMODATES THE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS
IV. TODAY’S CONTEXT FOR THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT IMPLEMENTATION POLICY PAPER
V. STATEWIDE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT
VI. A REPORT ON STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT POLICIES
VII. ENFORCEMENT OF CORRECTIVE ACTION
Excerpts from New York State Requirements for LRE - Appendix A
Excerpts from Federal Requirements for LRE - Appendix B
GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Memo

DATE:

May 1998

TO:

District Superintendents

Presidents of Boards of Education

Superintendents of Schools

Organizations, Parents and Individuals Concerned with Special Education

Superintendents of State-Operated and State-Supported Schools

Nonpublic School Administrators and Educators

State and Local Teacher Associations

New York City Board of Education

Executive Directors of Approved Private Schools

Directors of Special Education

Chairpersons of Committees on Special Education

Chairpersons of Committees on Preschool Special Education

Directors of Pupil Personnel Services

Directors of Approved Preschool Programs and Preschool Educators

Municipality Preschool Special Education Coordinators

Early Childhood Direction Centers

Colleges with Special Education Teacher Training

Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education Services

Impartial Hearing Officers

Community Dispute Resolution Centers

SETRC Project Directors and Training Specialists

SEALTA Project Directors

Head Start Directors

Chief Elected Officials of Counties

Independent Living Centers

Other State Agency Programs

FROM:

Richard P. Mills

SUBJECT:

Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper

I am issuing an updated version of the Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper to reaffirm the policy of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department concerning the education of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. The Policy Paper was approved by the Board of Regents in May 1994 to establish a clear policy on how local education agencies and the State were to implement Federal and State requirements relating to the education of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) substantially strengthened the assurances that state education agencies and local school districts must make regarding the implementation of LRE requirements. The updated Policy Paper describes Department activities to support the educational community in educating students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment.

Questions regarding the implementation of the provisions of least restrictive environment may be directed to the Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities (VESID) special education regional office in your area:

Western Regional Office

(716) 344-2112

Eastern Regional Office

(518) 486-6366

New York City Regional Office

(718) 722-4544

Hudson Valley Regional Office

(914) 245-0010

Long Island Regional Office

(516) 884-8530

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Least Restrictive Environment
Implementation Policy Paper
The University of the State of New York
The State Education Department
Approved by the Board of Regents
May 1994
Updated May 1998

The purpose of disseminating an updated Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Implementation Policy Paper is twofold: to reaffirm the policy of the Board of Regents and the New York State Education Department regarding LRE; and to document how the State Education Department and local education agencies are implementing this Federal and State requirement. The updated paper describes the Department’s efforts that are designed to ensure full implementation of the policy to enable students with disabilities to achieve the learning standards established for all students and to participate in the general education program to the greatest extent possible. These efforts are consistent with the new LRE provisions of the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The House of Representatives Committee Report on the need to reauthorize IDEA (1997) emphasizes that the majority of children identified as eligible for special education and related services are capable of participating in the general education curriculum to varying degrees with necessary adaptations and modifications. IDEA presumes that all children with disabilities are to be educated in regular classes. Therefore, special education and related services provided to students are to be in addition to and affected by the general education curriculum, not separate from it.

The updated Policy Paper defines steps that have been undertaken by the State Education Department to support the educational community in accomplishing the eight major goals set forth in the Paper. Major areas of support include the transforming the special education monitoring system to one of Quality Assurance that focuses on student results in addition to procedural compliance; developing and disseminating promising practices for expanding integrated options for preschool and school-age students with disabilities; redirecting the resources of the Early Childhood Direction Centers (ECDC), Special Education Training and Resource Center (SETRC) and Administrators Leadership and Training Academies (ALTA) statewide networks to better prepare parents and professionals for their roles in implementing LRE; and proposing special education funding reform to provide the flexibility and support needed to provide more integrated school programs and produce the results we all want for students with disabilities.

Excerpts from State and Federal requirements regarding LRE and a glossary of terms are appended to the document.

I. INTRODUCTION

The purpose of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Implementation Policy Paper is to establish a clear policy direction of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department regarding least restrictive environment and to describe how New York State will implement this Federal and State requirement. The identified goals will guide the Department, educational agencies, parents, professionals, and other interested parties in implementing the LRE requirements of both Federal and State law and regulations. Further, this paper sets forth an expectation that restructuring and change will occur to prepare all students for the challenges and demands of the 21st century.

Policy Statement on Least Restrictive Environment

It is the policy of the Board of Regents that each local school district and public agency providing education to students with disabilities will ensure that students with disabilities ages three through 21 are provided a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), consistent with Federal and State laws and regulations.

All public and private agencies providing educational services to students with disabilities will be expected to comply with the Federal and State LRE requirements.

Least restrictive environment means that placement of students with disabilities in special classes, separate schools and other removal from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that, even with the use of supplementary aids and services, education cannot be satisfactorily achieved. The placement of an individual student with a disability in the least restrictive environment shall:

  1. provide the special education needed by the student;

  2. provide for education of the student to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of the student with other students who do not have disabilities; and

  3. be as close as possible to the student's home.

II. RESPONSIBILITIES

A. LOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICT RESPONSIBILITIES

Each local school district and public agency providing education to students with disabilities is required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities ages three through 21 who reside in the district, consistent with Federal and State laws and regulations. This includes the responsibility to ensure the provision of appropriate supplementary aids and services to support the student and the student's teacher.

B. STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT RESPONSIBILITIES

The State Education Department is required to ensure that each public agency providing education to students with disabilities establishes and implements procedures that meet Federal and State requirements.

III. MOVING TOWARD AN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM THAT ACCOMMODATES THE NEEDS OF ALL STUDENTS

Students with and without disabilities need to learn to interact and develop interdependent relationships so that, as adults, they can successfully participate in a society that values full participation in the economic, political, social, cultural and educational mainstream of American society. The following principles and assumptions are associated with an educational structure that can respond more effectively to the diverse needs of students and their families.

    1. Services and programs will be made available to students based on their individual needs, without regard to classification.
    2. A continuum of alternative placements will be available to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
    3. All students with disabilities will have equal access to a high quality program based on their individual needs and abilities and designed to enable them to achieve desired learning results established for all students. Educational placement decisions for students will be determined by a process which first considers a general education environment in the school the student would attend if he/she did not have a disability.
    4. The removal of a student with a disability from the general educational environment occurs only when the needs of the student are such that, even with the use of supplementary aids and services, his/her needs cannot be met. However, consideration must be given to the impact of a student with a disability on the education of other students in the general or special education class when making placement decisions.
    5. Efforts will be made to access and coordinate with other available services within a local school district, BOCES or agency program before a student fails in his or her current educational placement.
    6. The responsibility for all students is shared among all staff of the school. Parents and guardians will have an opportunity for meaningful participation in the development of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) as equal partners with school personnel.
    7. Students with disabilities will be full participants in all aspects of the school program, including extra-curricular activities, to the maximum extent appropriate to their needs.
    8. Students with disabilities in segregated placements will transition to general education, when appropriate.

IV. TODAY’S CONTEXT FOR THE LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT IMPLEMENTATION POLICY PAPER

A. NEW YORK STATE HISTORY

New York State provided exemplary special education programs long before Federal requirements were established. The continuum of services has ranged from placement in general education classes to full-time residential schools for students with disabilities. An intended goal of Federal and State special education requirements has been to afford opportunities for students with disabilities, to the maximum extent possible, to interact with their nondisabled peers. Before the Department’s policy on least restrictive environment was adopted in 1994, the Regents A New Compact for Learning (1991) put forth a broad and expansive view of life and learning, including acquisition of skills, knowledge, and values needed by all students for effective participation in a diverse society and a multicultural world.

B. SCHOOL REFORM

We must move beyond providing access to special education, to improving educational results for all students with disabilities. New York’s special education reform efforts for students with disabilities focus on improving their educational achievement, ensuring their success in the general education curriculum and integrating them with nondisabled peers throughout their educational experience.

In 1996-97, 34 percent of students with disabilities spent more than 60 percent of their day in a separate classroom, well above the national average on 22.5 percent (based on 1994-95, the most recent national data available). Of equal concern is that 10.2 percent of students with disabilities were educated in separate settings as compared to national average of 4.3 percent (1994-95). Students in separate sites in New York State include those in approved private schools, Special Act School Districts, State-Operated and State-Supported Schools, and those in BOCES separate site programs.

The extent to which students with disabilities are afforded integrated opportunities varies statewide. In some regions, the large majority of students with disabilities are educated in settings with nondisabled students while in other areas there are high percentages of students with disabilities educated at separate sites. A student with a disability with similar abilities and learning needs could be in a general education building in one part of the State or in a separate site in another region.

C. THE BOARD OF REGENTS

In 1996, the Board of Regents established a strategic plan composed of six goals to raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all the people in New York. Woven throughout the plan is the commitment to focus on setting higher standards, building capacity and accounting for results. For example, one of the program goals is for students with disabilities to be educated, when appropriate, alongside their nondisabled peers throughout their educational experience.

D. FEDERAL MONITORING REPORTS

Federal Monitoring Reports were issued in 1989 and 1993 based on the review of special education in New York State by the United States Department of Education. The 1989 Report cited the New York State Education Department for failure to implement the Federal provision regarding least restrictive environment consistently across the State, especially with regard to placement of students with disabilities in programs that afforded interaction with their nondisabled peers. The 1993 Monitoring Report noted continuing deficiencies in this regard that are partially attributable to the weighted special education funding formula and continuing backlogs of evaluations and placements of students with disabilities in New York City.

E. NATIONAL PUBLIC POLICY CONTEXT

Significant events have occurred that have dramatically redefined national public policy regarding the rights and aspirations of people with disabilities.

    1. In 1990, Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation that established a "comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." The Act included, in the findings section, the following statement: " . . . the nation's proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals."
    2. Part H of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), commonly known as the Infants and Toddlers program, in 1991 marked its fifth and final phase-in year for states that chose to participate, including New York State. This Part provides financial assistance to states to serve infants and toddlers with disabilities ages birth to two. Stated goals of this legislation include efforts to: (1) reduce the educational costs to our society, including our nation's schools, by minimizing the need for special education and related services after handicapped infants and toddlers reach school age; and (2) minimize the likelihood of institutionalization of handicapped individuals and maximize the potential for their independent living in society.
    3. In 1992, Congress reauthorized the Rehabilitation Act and closely aligned its purposes with the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the Rehabilitation Act, Congress finds that ". . .the goals of the nation properly include the goal of providing individuals with disabilities with the tools necessary to make informed choices and decisions; and achieve equality of opportunity, full inclusion and integration in society, employment, independent living, and economic and social self-sufficiency, for such individuals." In the findings section, it was stated that disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to: (a) live independently; (b) enjoy self-determination; (c) make choices; (d) contribute to society; (e) pursue meaningful careers; and (f) enjoy full inclusion and integration in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American society.
    4. The 1993 report of the Regents Select Commission on Disability recommended that a goal for implementing LRE in New York State should be to increase the placement of students with disabilities in general education to a level consistent with national trends. In the 1996-97 school year, 42.8 percent of New York State's students with disabilities were placed in general education, as compared to 44.5 percent nationally (1994-95 latest available data), while 10.2 percent were educated in separate special schools and facilities, as compared to 4.3 percent nationally.
    5. In June 1997, Congress approved several amendments to the IDEA which substantially strengthen the assurances that both the State Education Department and school districts must make regarding the implementation of LRE requirements. The reauthorized IDEA presumes that all children with disabilities are to be educated in regular classes. It defines an IEP and requires that the Committee on Special Education specifically consider certain factors to ensure that the IEP of each child addresses the unique needs of the child that arise from his or her disability and must be met in order for the child to progress in the general education curriculum. A student's IEP must explain the extent, if any, to which he or she will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in the general education curriculum including extracurricular and nonacademic activities. The explanation should identify the regular classes, general curriculum, extracurricular and nonacademic activities in which the student will not participate and explain why the Committee on Special Education (CSE) made those decisions based on the unique needs of the child.

      New York’s special education reform effort began nearly two years ago and is remarkably similar in purpose to the June 1997 amendments of the IDEA. In addition to reflecting the provisions of the reauthorized IDEA, New York’s goals to reform special education are consistent with the principles of its policy on least restrictive environment. The goals are to:
      1. Eliminate unnecessary referrals to special education.
      2. Assure that students unnecessarily placed in special education or who no longer need special education services are returned to a supportive general education environment.
      3. Hold special education services to high standards of accountability to improve results for students with disabilities.
      4. Assure that students with disabilities are educated in settings with their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate to their individual needs.
      5. Provide mechanisms for school districts to develop or expand support and prevention services.
      6. Assure that school personnel and families have the knowledge and skills which enable them to effectively assist students with disabilities in attaining high standards.

V. STATEWIDE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT

A. GOALS

New York State's implementation of the least restrictive environment requirement must be viewed in the context of a clear and consistent national public policy direction. Eight major goals were identified to ensure that each student with a disability in the State receives a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

  1. Strengthening and Expanding General Education Services - Prevention and support services must be enhanced to maintain students who are experiencing learning difficulties in general education. This will help eliminate unnecessary referrals to special education and help students reach higher standards.
  2. Funding Reform – The current funding system does not offer the flexibility and support needed to provide more integrated school programs and produce the results we want for all students with disabilities. It provides a fiscal incentive to place students in restrictive environments. The 1998-99 Regents Proposal on State Aid to School Districts provides funds for increased prevention and support services, promotes innovation and flexibility in the provision of special education services and placements in the least restrictive environment while adequately supporting all options within the continuum of alternative placements. The proposed funding formula is conceptually similar to the revised Federal funding formula that bases funding on the total student enrollment and levels of poverty rather than the number of children identified as having disabilities. The new formula addresses the problems of overidentification of students with disabilities and preventing more restrictive placements.
  3. Supporting a Continuum of Alternative Placements - The State will ensure and support the provision of a continuum of alternative placements (instruction in general classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions) in all regions of the State to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities. Inclusion is an option within the continuum of alternative placements for students with disabilities.
  4. Promoting Statewide Equity and Access - In 1997-98, consistent with new IDEA requirements, the State Education Department will collect data on the race and ethnicity of students with disabilities who are receiving special education services with regard to identification and placement. The data will be used to identify issues in these areas and guide the development of policies and strategies to address them.
  5. Increasing General Education Opportunities - Full implementation of the existing continuum of alternative placements will be achieved by increasing options for placement of students with disabilities in general education. The Department has continued to identify and disseminate promising practices in this area. Local school districts, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and other educational agencies will ensure that supplementary aids and services required by students and included in their IEPs will be provided to support the student and the student's teacher(s). The Committee on Special Education/Committee on Preschool Special Education (CSE/CPSE) must document that the benefits of educating the student in a specialized program clearly outweigh the benefits of placement within the general education program with appropriate support for the student and the student's teacher(s).
  6. Strengthening the Role of Parents and Guardians – Parents must be invited to participate in all meetings to determine eligibility for special education and to develop, review and revise the IEP. In addition, IDEA requires that the parent of the student with the disability be an equal participant with school personnel in the decision-making process. The State Education Department will support parents and guardians in assuming this role.
  7. Focusing on Results - Students with disabilities will have equal access to high-quality programs, based on their individual needs and abilities, in order to achieve desired learning goals established for all students. The expected benefits to the student in the placement option selected will be indicated according to the full range of the student's needs and abilities (academic, social, physical and management needs). General goals, such as preparation for employment or postsecondary education and independent living, should be pursued for all students with disabilities. Measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or short-term objectives will be included on the IEP.
  8. Transitioning Students Back to General Education - When appropriate, students with disabilities in separate special education placements will be transitioned back, to the maximum extent appropriate, into a supportive general education environment.

B. ISSUES

  1. For some students, the LRE may be placement full time in a general education program with supplementary aids and services provided to the student and/or the student's teacher in that setting. For other students, the LRE may be a special class or special school. Any setting that prevents a child from receiving an appropriate education to meet his or her cognitive, social, physical, linguistic and/or communicative needs is not the LRE for that individual student. The placement decision for an individual student must be made only after the IEP is completely developed to address the full range of the student's needs.
  2. In determining whether the relative educational benefits available to the student in a general education classroom would be equal to or greater than the benefits of a separate class or school, the school district must consider whether supplementary aids and services would permit the attainment of the goals and objectives of the IEP in the general education classroom. Only upon determining that such goals and objectives cannot be achieved in a general education classroom should the student be educated in an alternative placement. Moreover, the CSE/CPSE should also consider the nonacademic benefits to the student that will result from interaction with nondisabled students.
  3. The IDEA presumes that all children with disabilities are to be educated in regular classes. Therefore, the IEP requires an explanation of the extent, if any, to which a student with a disability will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and the general education curriculum including extracurricular and nonacademic activities and explain why the Committee made those decisions based on the unique needs of the individual child.
  4. When determining placement of a student, consideration must also be given to the effect on the education of other students in the general or special education class. When a child’s behaviors are disruptive to other students and impede learning, the Committee must consider strategies, including positive behavior interventions, strategies and supports, to address those behaviors. Additionally, Committees on Special Education need to address the management needs of a student with a disability as the IEP is developed and reviewed. The school district must keep in mind its obligation to consider supplementary aids and services to accommodate the student's need for additional support prior to the removal of the student.
  5. Both public and private educational agencies must restructure their educational delivery system in order to implement practices which ensure that students with disabilities will meet desired expectations in their least restrictive placement.
  6. Consistent with the Regents Policy on Early Childhood Education, it is equally important that preschool students with disabilities have available to them a continuum of program options and educational opportunities with nondisabled peers. When such options are provided, a coordinated approach should be considered. This would include providing services in existing early childhood programs that use an integrated service delivery model, such as those offered by public school districts, private school programs, day care and Head Start. When appropriate to meet the needs of the preschool student, itinerant services may also be delivered in the home.

C. PROCEDURES

In order for educational agencies to implement the LRE requirements consistently throughout the State, a series of critical activities must occur for each student suspected or known to have a disability. For more specific information, please refer to the January 1998 memorandum "Guidance on Implementation of the Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act."

  1. The student must receive a comprehensive, nonbiased, individual evaluation in the student's dominant language or other mode of communication, unless it is clearly not feasible to do so, to determine his/her educational needs. In making a determination of a student’s eligibility, the CSE shall not determine a student to be a student with a disability if the determination factor for classification is lack of instruction in reading or math or limited English proficiency. The CSE must review evaluation information to determine whether any additions or modifications to special education and related services are needed to meet the annual goals set in the IEP and to enable the student to participate, as appropriate, in the general curriculum.

  2. Prior to placement in special education, the CSE must ensure that the appropriateness of the resources of the general education program, including prevention and support services, have been considered.

  3. A student's educational program must be developed with the meaningful involvement of the student's parent(s) or guardian(s) and teacher(s), and the student, when appropriate. The Committee must include persons knowledgeable about the student, the evaluation data and the continuum of alternative placement options. Beginning July 1, 1998, the IDEA requires that at least one of the student’s regular education teachers be a member of the Committee (if the student is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment). As a member of the Committee, this regular education teacher must, to the extent appropriate, participate in the development of the student's IEP, including 1) the determination of appropriate positive behavioral interventions and strategies; and (2) the determination of supplementary aids and services, program modifications and support for school personnel that will be provided for the student to advance appropriately toward attaining the annual goals; be included and progress in the general curriculum and to participate in extracurricular activities and other nonacademic activities; and be educated and participate in activities with other students with disabilities and nondisabled students. The regular education teacher must also participate in the review and revision of the student’s IEP.

    In addition, the representative of the school district on the Committee who is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction must be knowledgeable about the general curriculum and knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the school district. The individual who is knowledgeable about the evaluation data must be able to interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results and may be selected from the student’s regular or special education teacher or the representative of the school district.

  4. The CSE or CPSE must first consider placement in general education with appropriate support for the student and the student's teacher(s). The IEP must include statements of the child’s present levels of educational performance, including how the student’s disability affects involvement and progress in the general curriculum; or for preschool children, as appropriate, how the disability affects the child’s participation in appropriate activities.

  5. Measurable annual goals, including benchmarks or short-term objectives, must be related to meeting the student’s needs that result from the disability to enable the student to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum and meeting each of the student’s other educational needs that result from the disability.

  6. Alternative placements, such as special classes, special schools or other removal from the general education environment, would be considered only when the CSE/CPSE determines that a student's education in regular classes cannot be satisfactorily achieved even with the use of supplementary aids and services.

  7. The IEP of the student must include an explanation of the extent to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and in other activities.

  8. The parent or guardian and the board of education must be provided a recommendation from the CSE/CPSE which describes the program and placement options considered for the student and a rationale for those options not selected.

  9. The CSE/CPSE must indicate clearly defined expected benefits to the student from the special education program selected to address the full range of the student’s needs in the areas of academic or educational achievement and learning characteristics, social development, physical development and management needs.

  10. The CSE/CPSE must conduct an annual review of the student's needs for continuation or modification of the provision of special education programs and services. Such review shall consider the educational progress of the student and the student's ability to participate in general education programs.

VI. A REPORT ON STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT POLICIES

The State Education Department has assumed a leadership role by focusing its energies and resources on providing technical assistance, training and professional development activities to support local school districts, BOCES and other public and private agencies that provide education to students with disabilities in their responsibility to provide special education programs and services in the LRE. Expanded opportunities for parents to receive training and technical assistance are also made available. Activities to promote the implementation of least restrictive environment policies are described below.

A. QUALITY ASSURANCE

Over the past two years, the State Education Department’s special education monitoring system has been redesigned to focus on program effectiveness and improved student outcomes in addition to procedural compliance. The new Quality Assurance system is data driven and results oriented. Twelve key criteria are used to evaluate school district data to determine the type, intensity and timing of each Quality Assurance review. District-specific data for the previous two years are reviewed in the following areas: Grade 3 and Grade 6 Reading and Math PEP test scores; Reading and Math RCT test scores; numbers and types of diplomas awarded; dropout incidence; classification rate; integration in general education classrooms; placements in separate settings and overrepresentation of minority children in special education. Collaborative reviews of districts are performed by a team composed of the district’s general education and special education staff, administrators and parents as well as Department special education regional staff. Formal surveys of stakeholders are used to identify problem areas. Quality Improvement Plans are developed that describe action steps to be taken for each priority area as well as a timeline for completion and an evaluation component.

New for the 1997-98 year has been the identification of selected Facilitated Review Districts. Significant staff and fiscal resources are being made available to teams in these districts in order to improve their performance, particularly in reading and math.

B. SPECIAL EDUCATION FUNDING REFORM

The Regents Proposal on School Aid for 1998-99 would reform the State’s special education funding system by uncoupling special education aid from the identification of children and level of services. The proposal provides increased funds for prevention and support services, gives schools incentives to use these funds to promote student achievement of the highest learning standards, allows schools to develop more innovative and flexible special education services and adequately supports all options within the continuum of alternative placements.

The proposal features a funding formula that is based on enrollment and student poverty, consistent with the Federal formula, to eliminate the financial incentives to retain students in special education. It also allows districts the flexibility to support the provision of services to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment by allowing funds to follow the child and support a level of services based on individual student need.

The New York State Board of Regents 1998-1999 Proposal on State Aid recommends that the Legislature and Governor double to $94 million (1997-98: $47 million) the aid for general education prevention and support so that students who are having difficulties in school can receive help early, using support services within the general education program to achieve the high learning standards.

The proposal also calls for a Quality Assurance Intervention Grant Program to assist school districts with high rates of special education classification and placement of students with disabilities in separate settings to build capacity to meet the needs of these students to succeed in the general education curriculum in the least restrictive environment. Among the appropriate uses of grant funds is planning time necessary for teachers and other school staff to collaborate effectively to increase opportunities for students with disabilities to be educated with their nondisabled peers.

C. PRESERVICE AND IN-SERVICE TRAINING

  1. The Department has awarded a two-year grant to develop and deliver statewide a two-day training program on prevention and support services in general education. The training began in the spring of 1998.
  2. In June 1997 the Board of Regents approved a plan to address the shortage of qualified educational interpreters for students who are deaf or hearing impaired. The plan focuses on the training and certification of educational interpreters by calling for the establishment of four regional in-service centers and two preservice programs in educational interpreting during 1998 and a credential in regulation by December 1999.
  3. Training will be provided during 1998 to increase the knowledge and skills of Chairpersons of CSEs and CPSEs. The training will focus on their roles and responsibilities, procedures to conduct effective Committee meetings, how to minimize due process proceedings and how to effectively work with parents and school district personnel.
  4. The Department has developed a sample IEP format to assist CSEs and CPSEs in appropriately implementing the provisions of LRE as required by IDEA. The sample format and an accompanying guidance document will form the basis for CSE and CPSE member training in the fall of 1998.
  5. The mission of the Special Education Training and Resource Centers (SETRC) and Administrators Leadership Training Academies (ALTA) has been refocused to support the Department goals of high achievement of students with disabilities and their integration in general education programs with nondisabled students. SETRC and ALTA will work with Quality Assurance and Facilitated Review districts and other school districts that need assistance in these areas.
  6. VESID will collaborate with the Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education to develop and implement in-service training programs for general and special education teachers and administrators and ancillary personnel to be provided through SETRC and ALTA. These programs will focus on effective strategies to accommodate the diverse learning needs of students, curricular adaptation and collaborative instructional planning and delivery.
  7. VESID will provide training for parents through SETRCs, Early Childhood Direction Centers (ECDCs) and other parent networks to enhance their involvement in the planning and implementation of their children’s educational program.
  8. The Department sponsored the sixth annual conference on Inclusive Schools and Communities for Children and Youth in May 1998. Best practices from throughout the State were highlighted, and nationally recognized speakers addressed the topic of inclusive schooling.
  9. The Regents State Aid Proposal supports planning time for teachers as an allowable expense. As students with disabilities are increasingly educated in integrated settings with nondisabled students, the need to provide time for general education and special education teachers to plan for effective collaboration and coordination becomes even more critical.
  10. The Regents Task Force on Teaching was convened in 1996 to examine the state of teaching and teacher preparation in New York State and to make recommendations that will ensure teachers are able to assist all students in meeting higher learning standards. The Task Force is expected to present its recommendations to the Board of Regents this year.
  11. VESID will collaborate with the Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education, the Office of Higher and Professional Education and the Office of the Professions to develop preservice programs in institutions of higher education that prepare special education teachers and related service personnel to provide the requisite courses of study and practical experiences to meet the needs of teachers of students with disabilities.

D. PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT AND TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE

  1. Consistent with the recommendation of the Regents Select Commission on Disability and the Roundtable of the Regents Subcommittee on Special Education Issues in New York City, the Department promotes district-to-district sharing of effective practices to improve CSE and CPSE processes. The Department has identified numerous school districts throughout New York State with effective prereferral/prevention and CSE practices, which ensure appropriate referrals to special education and promote placements of students in the least restrictive environment. District-to-district technical assistance has been supported by the Department through conferences and replication grants.
  2. The Department develops and disseminates information on promising practices regarding the integration of students with severe disabilities into general education programs and services under a Federal grant in cooperation with Syracuse University.
  3. In 1998, the Department will initiate a multiyear project to address significant factors contributing to low performance of students with disabilities in the areas of reading and math. The Department will establish a statewide Reading and Math Technical Assistance Center to support a network of regional consortia that will provide direct assistance to the five large city school districts and other targeted school districts to increase their capacity to improve the reading and math performance of students with disabilities.
  4. A downstate program has been established for students who are blind and multiply disabled at the Sullivan Diagnostic Treatment Center. The program is designed to allow students who live a considerable distance from the New York State School for the Blind in Batavia to be educated nearer their homes and families and avoid long-distance travel to and from the school each week. The program is also an option for students with similar needs who are currently placed out of state.
  5. The Department provides innovative program waivers from sections 200.1 and 200.6 of the Regulations of the Commissioner to implement innovative special education programs in the least restrictive environment. VESID special education regional staff provide extensive technical assistance to develop and implement LRE initiatives.
  6. Consultant teacher services are available to students with disabilities who are enrolled full-time in regular education classes. School districts may apply for a waiver from section 200.1 and 200.6 of the Regulations of the Commissioner to provide these services to students who are enrolled less than full time in regular education classes.
  7. The Department promotes the development of integrated approaches for the education of preschool students with disabilities, ages three and four and has disseminated information to schools regarding these programs.
  8. The Department has promoted the development of opportunities for school-age students with disabilities eligible for 12-month educational services to receive special education and related services in settings with their nondisabled peers during the months of July and August. A memorandum issued in August 1996 provides guidance on the education of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment during July and August. In addition, eight schools received grants to develop quality July/August special education programs for students with disabilities in settings with their nondisabled peers.

     

E. LEGISLATION AND REGULATION

  1. Legislative and regulatory amendments were enacted to ensure that preschool children with disabilities receive special education services to the extent appropriate in settings with other preschool children without disabilities.
  2. Regulatory amendments pertaining to identifying students at risk of residential placement and promoting interagency collaboration to prevent the need for residential placement were approved by the Board of Regents.
  3. The Regulations of the Commissioner of Education were amended to allow certified reading teachers to provide specially designed reading instruction to students with disabilities who have significant difficulties in reading. Guidelines on providing such instruction will be disseminated in mid-1998.
  4. Consistent with Section 116 of Chapter 436 of the Laws of 1997, the Department has identified and notified school districts with special education referral rates that are significantly higher than the statewide average, those which evidence an overreliance on restrictive placements, or those with other significant documented problems. These districts were required to submit a response to the issues identified and offer an explanation for each identified issue. The Department is analyzing the responses and will provide recommendations to the Governor and Legislature, by December 1, 1998, on ways to reduce inappropriate placements in special education.

F. INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION

  1. The Department has actively promoted interagency collaboration to prevent the need for residential placement through the Coordinated Children’s Services Initiative (CCSI). The initiative focuses on ensuring that families are supported in staying together and that children remain at home in their community by improving the quality of decision making for children with emotional and behavioral disturbances through State and local interagency partnerships. CCSI has expanded to 32 counties.
  2. Partners for Children is a statewide collaboration with a strong commitment from private and public organizations to help all children reach their potential. Partners include the New York State Board of Regents/Education Department, Department of Health, Office of Mental Health, Office of Children and Family Services and Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance; and the United Way of New York State, New York State School Boards Association and New York State United Teachers. The April 1997 signed agreement among the partners expands a 1996 cooperative arrangement between the United Way and the Board of Regents to bring health and social service providers together with schools to ensure that students are ready and able to learn. Partners for Children envisions equal opportunity for all children to achieve their full potential and believes that family, school, community and government stakeholders must work together to assure that health and educational development of all children. It supports and promotes school-linked and school-based health and human services that enhance access to services to enable children to come to school ready to learn and be successful. This strategy is designed to decrease the number of children classified as having a disability and increase the number of children served in the least restrictive environment.
  3. The State Education Department is an active partner in the Task Force on School-Community Collaboration that was established in Executive Law to improve the well-being of children and families across New York State by fostering new partnerships at the community level among schools and public and private community agencies. The Task Force goals are to increase the number of children ready to learn when entering school; increase the educational performance of all children; improve child health and nutrition; increase the number of children in a safe, stable and nurturing home and community environment; decrease violence and other behavioral problems among children and youth; and decrease the rate of out-of-home placements.

The initiatives needed to successfully implement this policy will require a commitment of the entire educational community for an extended period of time. During the next several years, parents and guardians, educators, students and other interested parties will continue to have an opportunity to be involved to ensure that Federal and State regulations for LRE are implemented consistently throughout the State. To guide our progress, the following two approaches will continue to be implemented:

  1. The Department will report the progress of the LRE Implementation Policy annually to the Board of Regents; and

  2. The Department will implement multiyear planning and reporting activities to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are being addressed, consistent with the recommendations of the Regents Select Commission on Disability.

VII. ENFORCEMENT OF CORRECTIVE ACTION

The State Education Department has an affirmative responsibility, as required by Federal Regulations 300.555, to ensure that teachers and administrators in all public agencies are fully informed regarding their responsibilities for implementing LRE and are provided technical assistance and training to assist them in this effort. In addition, the State, as mandated by Federal Regulations 300.556, is required to carry out activities to ensure the LRE provisions of Federal regulations are implemented by each public agency.

As part of this monitoring responsibility, the State must intervene where there is evidence that a public agency is making placements that are inconsistent with the LRE requirements. In such cases, the State must review the public agency's justification for its actions and assist in planning and implementing any necessary corrective action. The State Education Department will undertake such monitoring and technical assistance activities in all situations where noncompliance with Federal and State LRE requirements is identified.

In situations where noncompliance with LRE requirements is identified, public agencies will be required to develop corrective action plans with associated timelines to resolve the compliance issues, which will be subject to Department approval. The Department will also take progressive action, as necessary, including withholding of Federal funds, when adequate progress toward compliance is not being achieved.

Excerpts from New York State Requirements for LRE - Appendix A

New York State Education Law - 4402 (2) (a)

The board of education or trustees of each school district shall be required to furnish suitable educational opportunities for children with handicapping conditions by one of the special services or programs listed in subdivision two of section forty-four hundred one. The need of the individual child shall determine which of such services shall be rendered. Each district shall provide to the maximum extent appropriate such services in a manner, which enables children with handicapping conditions to participate in regular education services when, appropriate....

New York State Regulations

Section 200.4 of the Regulations of the Commissioner requires that, unless the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) requires some other arrangement, the student should be educated in the school he or she would attend if not disabled.

Also, Section 200.5 requires that the notice to the parent and the board of education of the recommendation of the Committee on Special Education (CSE) must include a description of each program and placement option considered for the student and a rationale for rejecting those options not selected. For example, in addition to the requirement to first consider placement of a student in general education with appropriate support services, the CSE and the parent of a child also consider a second option of general education with special education class for part of the school day. If, based on the needs of the student, the CSE's recommendation is a full-time general education program with consultant teacher services, the notice to the parent or guardian and board of education would include a rationale for rejecting the special class option considered for the child. Similarly, if the CSE's recommendation for a student with a low incidence disability (e.g., deafness) is a special school, the notice must include a rationale for rejecting placement in general education with support services and other alternative options within the public schools. In all cases, the notice under section 200.5 of the regulations would need to include documentation of consideration of general education and only those programs and placement options considered by the CSE and parent or guardian during the meeting to develop the Individualized Education Program. However, the CSE must provide notice to the parent and the board of education, which includes a rationale for rejecting a general education placement and any other less restrictive placement in the continuum of services.

Excerpts from Federal Requirements for LRE - Appendix B

Federal Law Section 612 (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as reauthorized in 1997)

(a) In General, a State is eligible for assistance under this part for a fiscal year if the State demonstrates to the satisfaction of the Secretary that the State has in effect policies and procedures to ensure that it meets each of the following conditions:

(1) . . .
(2) . . .
(3) . . .
(4) . . .
(5) Least restrictive environment.

    1. In general. 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 not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
    2. Additional requirement,

      (I) In general. If the State uses a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served, the funding mechanism does not result in placements that violate the requirements of subparagraph

      (ii) Assurance. If the State does not have policies and procedures to ensure compliance with clause (I), the State shall provide the Secretary an assurance that it will revise the funding mechanism as soon as feasible to ensure that such mechanism does not result in such placements.

Federal Regulations

    The Federal requirements for LRE are found at 34 CFR 300.550-556. Sections 300.550-552 provide a procedural definition of LRE.

    Section 300.550

    (a) Each State educational agency shall ensure that each public agency establishes and implements procedures, which meet the requirements of Sections 300.500-300.556.

    (b) Each public agency shall ensure:

    (1) that 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, and

    (2) that special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

    Section 300.551

    (a) Each public agency shall ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services.

    (b) The continuum required under paragraph (a) of this section must:

    (1) include the alternative placements listed in the definition of special education under Section 300.13 of Subpart A (instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions); and

    (2) make provision for supplemental services (such as resource room or itinerant instruction) to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement.

    Section 300.552

    Each public agency shall ensure that:

    (a) The educational placement of each child with a disability:

    (1) is determined at least annually;

    (2) is based on his or her individualized education program; and

    (3) is as close as possible to the child's home.

    (b) The various alternative placements included under Section 300.551 are available to the extent necessary to implement the individualized education program for each child with a disability;

    (c) Unless the individualized education program of a child with a disability requires some other arrangement, the child is educated in the school which he or she would attend if nondisabled; and

    (d) In selecting the least restrictive environment, consideration is given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services, which he or she needs.

    The note under Section 300.552 includes the following information:

    The analysis of the regulations for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (34 CFR 104 - Appendix, Paragraph 24) includes several points regarding education placements of children with disabilities that are pertinent to this section:

    1.  With respect to determining proper placements, the analysis states: "It should be stressed that, where a handicapped child is so disruptive in a regular classroom that the education of other students is significantly impaired, the needs of the handicapped child cannot be met in that environment. Therefore regular placement would not be appropriate to his or her needs."

    2. With respect to placing a child with a disability in an alternate setting, the analysis states that among the factors to be considered in placing a child is the need to place the child as close to home as possible. Recipients are required to take this factor into account in making placement decisions. The parents' right to challenge the placement of their child extends not only to placement in special classes or separate schools, but also to placement in a distant school, particularly in a residential program. An equally appropriate education program may exist closer to home; and this issue may be raised by the parent under the due process provisions of this subpart.

    Section 300.553

    In providing or arranging for the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, including meals, recess periods, and the services and activities set forth in 300.306, each public agency shall ensure that each child with a disability participates with nondisabled children in those services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of that child.

Section 300.554

Each SEA shall make arrangements with public and private institutions (such as a memorandum of agreement or special implementation procedures) as may be necessary to ensure that 300.550 is effectively implemented.

Section 300.555

Each SEA shall carry out activities to ensure that teachers and administrators in all public agencies:

a.  are fully informed about their responsibilities for implementing 300.550; and

b.  are provided with technical assistance and training necessary to assist them in this effort.

Section 300.556

    1. The SEA shall carry out activities to ensure that 300.550 is implemented by each agency.
    2. If there is evidence that a public agency makes placements that are inconsistent with 300.550 the SEA shall:

(1) Review the public agency's justification for its actions; and

(2) Assist in planning and implementing any necessary corrective action.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

The following glossary of terms is provided to define the meaning of specific terms and phrases as they are used within the context of the Least Restrictive Environment Implementation Policy Paper.

Continuum of Alternative Placements - Each school district must ensure that a continuum of alternative placements is available to meet the needs of students with disabilities for special education and related services. The continuum must include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions. The continuum must make provision for supplementary services such as resource room or itinerant instruction to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement (34 CFR 300.551).

Educationally Related Support Services (ERSS) means those assessment, or noncareer counseling services, provided to eligible students and related consultation services provided to their families and related school personnel, in order to enhance the academic achievement and attendance of these students. ERSS also includes speech and language improvement services (8NYCRR100.1r). The intent of the Legislature in establishing ERSS in 1986 was to provide appropriate services on a short-term basis in order to maintain students in general education without the need for Committee on Special Education referral, evaluation or classification. As of July 1, 1995, the definition of ERSS also includes curriculum and instructional modification and direct student support team services (Chapter 82 of the Laws of 1995).

Expected Benefits means the potential academic and/or nonacademic development of the student expressed in accordance with the full range of the student's needs and abilities (academic, social, physical and management needs).

Free Appropriate Public Education, as defined in Federal regulations, means special education and related services that are "provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction and without charge; meet the standards of the SEA (New York State Education Department)...; include preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in New York State; and are provided in conformity with an Individualized Education Program (IEP)..." (34 CFR 300.8).

General/Regular Education means an educational program that is consistent with the general school requirements under Part 100 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education.

Inclusion is one of several approaches for the provision of special education in a general education program. Under this approach, the primary instruction and provision of appropriate special education services to a student with a disability is provided in an age-appropriate general education class in his or her home school with appropriate additional supports for the student and the student's teacher(s).

Individual Evaluation means any individually administered assessments, tests, or procedures, used selectively with a student to determine whether a student has a disability and the extent of his/her special education needs. The term does not include basic tests administered to, or procedures used with, all children in a school, grade, or class.

Satisfactorily Achieved means there is a reasonable expectation that the goals and objectives of the IEP can be achieved in a particular placement.

Supplementary Aids and Services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable students with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with the least restrictive environment. Supplementary aids and services include, but are not limited to, resource room or itinerant instruction, developmental or corrective support services and assistive technology devices and services, modification of curriculum, and instructional methodologies that support diverse learning needs.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]