School districts are required to offer a range or continuum of school placements for children with disabilities in order to meet their individual needs.
There are two main types of placements:
- In-District Placements: classrooms that are part of the public school.
- Out-of-District Placements: schools that are separate from public schools. Sometimes they are also called special education private schools.
Within these two broad categories, there is a continuum of placements.
Before a child’s team considers out-of-district or private schools, various in-district, public school options are typically tried first. These options may range from full inclusion in general education classrooms to separate classrooms within public schools (programs specifically designed for children with disabilities where there is less contact with typically developing peers).
“Inclusion” or General Education Classroom:
These classrooms are made up of typically developing children AND children with special needs at the same grade level. Services and accommodations may help children with disabilities access the general education curriculum, such as an in-class aide to assist several children throughout the day and a pull-out for special instruction (e.g., speech therapy, 1:1 tutoring, small reading group).
“Full inclusion” is defined by a student spending 80% or more of their day in a general education classroom (20% or less time outside the general classroom).
“Partial inclusion” is defined as a student spending 60-79% of the time in the general education classroom (21-40% of the time outside the general classroom).
The IEP Placement Consent form defines varying degrees of time in the regular education classroom, depending on the child’s needs.
Inclusion classrooms work very well for many children, and there are great benefits from having a diverse group of children integrated into the mainstream classroom. However, if a child is not adequately learning in this setting or has more significant emotional or behavioral needs that are interfering with learning, a more restrictive option may be required.
Substantially Separate Classrooms
Also known as “self-contained classrooms,” they offer a highly modified curriculum in separate classrooms. There are no typically developing peers. Educators carefully assess if there are areas where children can access the general curriculum (e.g., certain subject areas, gym) to make sure they can be included with peers whenever possible.
In-District classrooms are effective for many children. For some children, however, parents and educators decide that the child’s needs are more extensive than what the public school can reasonably provide. When more specialized services and trained staff are required, a private special education day or residential school is the next consideration. Sometimes parents and educators do not agree on whether the child is making adequate progress in the current setting.
The above options are effective for many children. For some children, however, parents and educators decide that the child’s needs are more extensive than what the public school can reasonably provide. When more specialized services and trained staff are required, a private special education day or residential school is the next consideration. Sometimes parents and educators do not agree on whether the child is making adequate progress in the current setting; we will discuss how to proceed if parents are faced with this difference of opinion.
Out-of-district placements are schools that are separate from public schools. Sometimes they are also called special education private schools. These schools provide specialized instruction by highly trained staff designed to meet the needs of a particular population (e.g., children with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, autism). These schools were put in place to ensure that children with disabilities can be educated successfully.
Children are usually referred to out-of-district schools when it has been determined that the public school cannot adequately serve them. Their educational needs are thought to require more specialized instruction in order to justify removal from the public school and exposure to typically developing peers.
The public schools of several nearby towns may share resources and offer specialized programs called Education Collaboratives for students with less common or “low-incidence” disabilities in one of their buildings. Sometimes children are referred to a Collaborative that is located in their town, and sometimes they travel to a neighboring town for a program that meets their needs and provides an appropriate peer group.
This PDF from the Massachusetts Department lists approved Education Collaboratives: https://www.doe.mass.edu/edcollaboratives/membership.html]
These day schools provide specialized instruction by highly trained staff designed to meet the needs of a particular population (e.g., children with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, autism). These schools were put in place to ensure that an individual with a disability is served in a setting where the student can be educated successfully.
These day schools provide specialized instruction by highly trained staff. They are designed to meet the needs of a particular population (e.g., children with visual or hearing impairments, learning disabilities, autism). These schools were put in place to ensure that students with disabilities are served in a setting where they can be educated successfully.
Unlike private special education schools, other private schools:
- are chosen and paid for by the parents,
- do not necessarily require approval by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE),
- are not obligated by law to follow IEPs or 504 plans but may accept them,
- may or may not serve children with special needs (however, if a child is eligible for an IEP and parents decide to pursue one of these schools, the public school is still obligated to provide the services the child qualifies for under the IEP).
The most restrictive option on the continuum of educational placements is a special education private residential placement. This is considered when the child’s needs are 24/7 and cannot be met in any other setting. The child’s team then determines that the LRE is outside of the child’s home.
There are many different types of residential programs, and it can be confusing for parents to make sense of the options. There is no standard definition of residential treatment in the U.S. or even a common term (residential treatment, boarding school, residential care, therapeutic school, residential placement, and residential program are sometimes used interchangeably because terms vary by state). This can create uncertainty for parents about what is best for their child.
Parents should know that not all programs are accredited or provide treatment. There are state and national agencies that approve programs for a particular population, such as children with learning disabilities, mental health difficulties, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Asking schools about their accreditation and checking on this is recommended.
Publicly funded means that the program is paid for by the school district, not the child’s parents. Residential schools offer a combined private day school and group home in the community or a dorm on the school’s campus. Supervision is provided at all times, including evenings, weekends, and holidays. Specialized instruction for academics occurs during the school day, and intensive teaching of daily living skills often occurs before, during, and after the school day.
Key features of residential treatment, particularly for children with serious emotional and behavioral disorders, are:
- 24-hour therapeutic, behavioral health intervention,
- highly structured and supervised daily living,
- multidisciplinary treatment by licensed clinicians,
- individualized assessment and treatment planning,
- coordination with local school districts and education agencies.
A child may also be referred by an agency and to settings other than public schools, including:
- Department of Mental Health – can refer children to a hospital psychiatric unit or residential treatment program
- Department of Youth Service – can place students in a facility for committed or detained youth
- Department of Public Health – can refer to the Massachusetts Hospital School
- A medical doctor – can recommend a Hospital-based or Home school program
When one of these agencies or professionals refers a child to a program, the program’s cost is the agency’s responsibility, not the child’s parents.