In the realm of special education, choosing the right school for a special needs student requires several factors: A student’s disability, the availability of resources, and the place that can offer the least restrictive environment on the student’s education.
Least restrictive environment (usually known as LRE) refers to the limitations (or the elimination of) placed on a student with disabilities to receive equal access to the same education as his/her nondisabled peers. In practice the greatest amount of access should be given to these students; however, this philosophy also addresses the need for accommodations or modifications, and placements in programs that can help the student’s education.
While decisions for placement of a student in the right school or program is done through Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting by an IEP team member, the parent or guardian still has the last say on where the child should go.
Often, the decision may be as minor as having the student mainstreamed into the general education population. Other decisions by the parents may require a move to another school in the district. Still, some moves can result in placement in more restrictive environments such as non-public schools or residential, hospital or institutionalized programs.
While the parents have the power to eventually decide to place a student with special needs in a certain program or school, one thing must be made important above all else; it must benefit the child and address his/her needs.
A majority of the time, a student with special needs will attend a public school. There, he or she will either be placed in special education classes or be mainstreamed into general education courses with accommodations, depending on the disability.
Usually, the residential school (also known as local school or local education agency- LEA) will have the facilities and programs. However, there are times when accommodations or modifications needed to assist a student at school cannot be given at the residential school. As a result, another school within the same district as the residential school is considered.
As part of the American with Disability Act (ADA) public school facilities need to be wheelchair accessible. However, some schools within a district will have these requirements. It is common practices for administrators to send students with a certain disability (usually physical) to a particular school that will have these particular accommodations.
This, in part, addresses one sector of this particular population. Students with learning or developmental disorders are another matter. Again, students with these conditions will be bussed within a district to a school campus that can accommodate them.
There are private schools to consider. One such place that comes to mind is the Speech and Language Development Center in Buena Park, California. According to its website, this school is actually a group of programs that serve students with language, learning, developmental, behavioral, or neurological disorders. The population is small (165), yet holds a population ranging between pre-kindergarten to age 21.
Another type of school – one in which public school districts will have contractual obligations - are non-public schools. Usually, these schools are small and are geared toward students with emotional disorders. This environment can be very restrictive and is often the last refuge for this particular group of students. The upside to these programs – such as Victory High School in Lawndale, California is that the class-sizes are usually small. Downside is that these schools will hold students who couldn’t socially or emotionally handle the rigors and social climate of public school. These programs are often funded by the public school districts the student population came from.
There’s another public school choice for parents – especially those with students who need more attention than the typical special education student. County programs (such as Los Angeles County Office of Education or LACOE) often deal with students with disabilities, in particular, students with developmental, behavioral or intellectual disorders. However, some programs offered by various counties can have a stigma attached to it. County programs often cater to at-risk students (those who have been incarcerated). Unfortunately, the other programs for the physical, learning or intellectual disorders often go unrecognized (it should be noted that most county programs are held on public school campuses within a school district, and country programs offer services to the public schools such as speech therapy, and counseling).
Sometimes, it seems that a student’s disability will limit where he or she can go. However, there are many choices a parent can choose from. Still, the IEP and the student’s needs always come first when such a choice needs to be made.