story is true. (see
"School is Where My Friends Are.")
Her IEP Team for the past seven years has always 'placed' her in the
Least Restrictive Environment; that is, she has gone to her neighborhood
school, in a classroom with appropriate related services including
a one-on-one educational assistant. With these supports in place she
has made progress every year on the educational goals set out in her
Individual Education Plan. Thus she is entitled to remain with her
current 'placement' has been a great success. Marilyn Karr, her teacher,
welcomed her into her class from the beginning and has always made
Eleanor feel not only a part of the class but a valued member as well.
educational assistant, Lana Craig, has been with Eleanor for two years
and is an unusually competent and dedicated person. Eleanor regards
Lana, and Lana's dog Kola, as her special friends and has done a lot
of things with them outside the classroom.
of Eleanor's classmates have been with her from the first grade and
do not regard having her as a classmate as anything unusual or extraordinary.
They are understanding of who she is, what she can do well and what
she needs help with. They are quick to support and praise her.
then do her mother and I feel such anxiety about next year and her
school future in general? Partly it is because we are aware that her
'placement' is regrettably not so much about her as it is about us.
Don't get me wrong. Eleanor is a great and in many ways exceptional
young woman. We know a large number of other children with Down syndrome
who are in very restrictive placements and without the supports Eleanor
has. There doesn't seem to be much real difference between their and
her basic abilities.
is she with 'normal' kids and they are not?
answer is that her parents are skilled, trained advocates who know
the system, the buzzwords, and how to get what we want. It is not
a matter of our loving her more than other families love their children.
What hangs over our heads is the injustice done to others and the
pressure to perform as super parents in order to each year achieve
a 'placement' that leaves her with her friends in her school, pursuing
her individual goals.
the opposite end of the hall from Eleanor's room is the school's
self-contained classroom. The kids in that class are separated from
the rest and stand out as school oddities.
is not that they are laughed at or abused, but where Eleanor is
just another kid, her friends in the self-contained classroom stand
out as special. They take recess at a different time. They eat lunch
separately. They are escorted around the school. They are 'them';
the rest of the school is 'us'.
is 'placed' in her 'least restrictive environment', a highly defined
(see Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 48, Section 300.550 -556) provision
of IDEA '97. In order for a 'least restrictive environment' to exist
there always is, by definition, a 'more restrictive environment'
where a kid can end up. My experience is that when kids start out
in a self-contained class (keep in mind they are five years old
when that decision is made), they will not escape back into the
those of us who start with an inclusion placement, there is an expectation
that it can only go on for so long and than we will, of course,
revert to another, more restrictive, placement more 'appropriate'
for the student.
kids 'fail' in an inclusion placement, it is never their fault.
It is always the fault of the school. Either the school has failed
to provide the necessary supports, lacks the professional skill
necessary, or has an attitude that makes failure a preordained outcome.
Naturally the failure is then used as evidence that inclusion cannot
I first studied IDEA, the Least Restrictive Environment provisions
seemed to me to be positive ones. What I did not know is that they
are simply a first, federally-mandated step requiring schools to
abandon their time-honored method of dealing with kids with disabilities
by ignoring and excluding them entirely or, more recently, allowing
them in but carefully segregating them from kids who would otherwise
be in their class. A step in the right direction, not the end of
we need now is to eliminate the concept of least restrictive environment
in favor of the simple notion that kids belong with other kids.
All children must have the right to be educated with their peers.
With supports, every child can succeed. Every child must be an 'inclusion'
other daughter, Taylor, is nine years old. She is not 'placed' every
fall. She simply goes where her class goes. That must become true
for every child. Eleanor's education with her friends and neighbors
must be a right and not a subjective game played between her parents
and the school district.
is time to abandon 'placement' and 'least restrictive environment'.
Everyone matters. Everyone is important. Everyone is unique. Kids
belong with kids. It is that simple.