In order to be in our program for students with Intellectual Disabilities the IEP team must decide that the least restrictive environment is a different program that the neighborhood school can provide. It's not a decision that should be taken lightly by any team, and one that many times is come to after the neighborhood school and the student have proven to not be a good match.
The stories are heartbreaking from a parent perspective. In many of them the school did nothing wrong, but the situations were still not ideal. I cannot imagine how it must feel as a parent to hear that your neighborhood school- the one you watch all the other kids in your neighborhood come and go from happily- is unable to meet your child's needs. Stories of teachers admitting they don't have the answers- of frustrated parents wondering what's happening when they are not around- of students trying to fit into a situation where they do not feel comfortable.
Most of these are situations where no one did anything wrong. No one is at fault. It's not lazy teachers or bad administrators or overly demanding parents. The situations just are what they are. Families try the neighborhood schools first. It's how IDEA, the federal special education law is written- the least restrictive environment should always be in place, and many times in order to determine that environment a student has to try being at their neighborhood school in the general education population first.
My heart breaks for these parents and their stories. It's also terrifying as a teacher. I want to give my families the most positive school experience possible. I want them to have that happy, confident child who comes off the bus bursting with achievements to share and stories to tell. I want to communicate all their children's strengths while also being completely honest about their growth areas.
Having a child who was placed in a therapeutic day school for his freshman and sophomore years of high school, and who has now transitioned (less than successfully so far) back to the neighborhood high school, I know this pain.
It's not easy to make the decision. It's even more troubling when you are left questioning whether the new placement was worse than where you started.
Dana, thanks for your input. I really appreciate the parent perspective. I can't imagine struggling with that decision, and I don't want parents to be disappointed with their child's progress in our program.
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