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The Loaded Question: Least Restrictive Environment?

There is a beautiful 9 year old boy in my house tonight. He is funny, intelligent, and handsome. He has always been the picture perfect student, in fact, school is his happy place. He performs at or above grade level across the board academically. He fidgets and talks, but he also participates in class. He has a tendency to get a little excited, not unusual for a little boy, but overall he has always been loved by his teachers. He has always gotten good report cards, and behavioral reports.

This little boy is so wonderful, in fact, that his teachers never believe us when we tell them, “D was unable to finish his homework because his anxiety was out of sight.” Or, “D needs another copy of last night’s homework sheet. He got frustrated and during a tantrum, he tore his homework up. Please send a new copy home so we can complete it.” Or, “I’m sorry; D was unable to finish his homework last night. He had an outburst and was too exhausted afterwards to finish his homework.” Or, “Some nights, I am just not willing to fight the homework battle. My relationship with my son is more important than homework, especially when he is already performing well academically.”

D has a cocktail of diagnoses. He is medically diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (HFA/Asperger’s), Mood-Disorder NOS, ADHD, ODD, and Asthma.

In the past, due to his academic performance and his ability to hold himself together at school, we never needed to pursue special education eligibility. We had considered, but as a team decided against a Section 504 Plan since he was doing well with things that his classroom teacher was already doing for him. However, he was not able to do as well at home.

D is similar to a volcano. He wakes up in the morning with warm lava. Walking into the living room with his sisters who already want a lot of attention makes his lava begin to bubble. As he continues with his day, the bus is 3 minutes late and the lava continues. He gets to school and is told to stop talking, or someone says something to him that he does not like and the lava boils hotter. On his way home from school, he thinks about his plans for the afternoon. However, when he gets home, the sister he had planned to play with is sick, we are out of corn chips and yogurt, so he has to has to have peanut butter crackers for snack, and then his favorite movie has a scratch. At this point, the lava has boiled hotter and higher inside the volcano until that volcano has to erupt in order to relieve the pressure of the boiling lava.

Due to D’s diagnoses and the associated behaviors, we had to make the very difficult decision to place him in a residential treatment facility. He spent 4.5 months in that facility, and returned home Friday, August 5, 2011. Prior to his time at the treatment center, he was in a regular education classroom, but while there he was in a very small special education classroom.

The change from regular education to special education is where our dilemma is at this point. We are working with the local school system to create the perfect plan to reintegrate him into his local school. The teacher at the treatment center said that D really needs a regular education classroom, but that he needs the smaller class size offered by a special education classroom. His therapist at the treatment center agrees with the teacher, but said she has only ever had one child go directly to regular education from the center. She also believes he needs more support, in moments of high anxiety, than the regular classroom can provide in most situations.

As his parents, we are somewhere in the middle. My husband tends to agree more with the therapist, I tend to agree more with the teacher. My belief is that he has never had a problem in the regular classroom; he is not eligible for special education services according to IDEA at this point, though he will begin the official evaluation process late next week.

Due to his history in the regular education classroom, I pushed for him to be placed in a regular classroom. I felt it was important to start him in his least restrictive environment and give him the chance to prove himself. The director of psychological services wanted to keep him out of school until the evaluation process was complete and then place him, “in a smaller, separate setting in a school other than his home school.”

The facts are, the law states that a child should be started in his or her least restrictive environment. Also, it is illegal for a school district to predetermine placement based on information from the outside without even determining a child’s eligibility. Last but not least, it is also illegal to deny a child a public education which is what would have happened by not allowing D to start school with his peers.

With the law on our side, we were able to have D placed in a regular education classroom at his home based school. In addition, when we met with the district and school representatives on Friday, we were given an amazing sense of relief. The principal is a former director of special education. The teacher seemed to completely understand D and what his needs would be. The district representative was proactive in helping the teachers know how to speak to D; they were proactive in meeting his needs and helping him to be successful even without an IEP or a 504 Plan. They genuinely seemed excited that he would be attending their school.

I may or may not have fought for the right placement, only time will tell. However, I simply cannot lower my expectations for my son when he has always been successful in his least restrictive educational environment. I felt the only fair thing was to give him the opportunity to be successful just has he has always been in the past. How am I to take him away from his happy place?


About Lena Herrington

With the help of a wonderful husband, I am raising 4 wonderful kids. D (9) has High Functioning Autism, SPD, & possible mood disorder (though this is being ruled out by his pdoc). He is transitioning home from a residential treatment center where he spent 4.5 months receiving intense therapy. Spike (4) has a speech articulation delay and PTSD from dealing with her brother’s reactive/aggressive behaviors. Pouty (3) has seizure disorder, possible PTSD, and will rule the world with her determination. Samoo (18m) is the cuddliest, sweetest baby with amazing ability to understand language, but severely delayed expressive language. He is quite possibly the most comical, expressive kid I have, even without his words. My M.A.Ed in Special Education may not have taken me back into the classroom, but it sure helps me to “Embrace the Crazy” at home!

Lena’s blog is and twitter is @luvmycrzylife


Editors note: I had the pleasure of meeting Lena on Twitter and become aware of her story with D because it is similar to mine with my son. I’ve found a kindred spirit in her. She is strong, vulnerable, and accessible. She’ll support your when you need it and ask for support when she needs it. Get to know her, you’ll be glad you did. — Julia

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    • August 22, 2011 |