Integration and Special Education
When a student is disabled, education includes much more than the three R's. Beyond academic learning, students in special education programs also learn about managing the needs of their daily life. Activities of daily living (ADL) such as dressing, toileting, self-feeding, and other hygiene needs are also taught. The needs of a student in special education are similar in some ways to those of nondisabled students, but can also be very different. Thus a multifaceted program, coordinated by teachers, administrators, therapists, and parents, is planned annually. This plan is known as the Individual Education Program (IEP), which is discussed in more detail in the next section.
Least Restrictive Environments, Mainstreaming, and Inclusion
IDEA establishes that students must have access to an education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). In practice, this means that a student must be placed in the same classroom she would attend if she were not disabled. Supplementary services, such as aides, support systems, and communication equipment, should be used to achieve this goal. If a student's IEP clearly shows that the regular classroom is not suitable, after thoroughly researching the use of various supports, aids, and paraprofessionals, other arrangements can be made. Inclusion, mainstreaming, and LRE all refer to the same thing.
However, IDEA has recognized that the regular classroom is not suitable for all students. It calls for a “continuum of alternative placement” to answer the needs of each child. This includes special education classrooms, special schools, or instruction in the home environment. In some instances a personal aide may also be necessary and would be required by law.
Achieving Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
FAPE is something to which every child in the United States is entitled, even if it is a phrase very few parents know. Every child is entitled to have the best education possible, it must be easily accessible, and can have no attached fees. This includes services such as special education and “related services” necessary to fulfill the IEP goals. This mandate applies to all Title I schools and encompasses academics, physical education, speech therapy when needed, and occupational and physical therapy if these have educational benefits.
The law says that no child shall be denied needed services because of lack of personnel. If the school does not have the necessary professionals, they are required by law to pay for outside services. You may need to be quite aggressive to have the school district pay for any outside services and might need an advocate to help you.
Related services relevant to FAPE include hearing evaluations, speech therapy, psychological counseling, physical and occupational therapy, recreational therapy, and vocational counseling. This is not an all-inclusive list, as any service necessary for a child's success is included in this category. These are not luxuries; they are essential to acquiring the free and appropriate public education that every child is entitled to, by law, in the United States. However, when there are budget problems, you may find that you will have to push hard to get some needed services and then will have to constantly check to be sure your child is receiving them. “The squeaky wheel does get the grease.”
A free and appropriate public education means that every child with a disability is in essentially the same environment as he would be were he not disabled. Least restrictive environments are part of this education and related services are as well. FAPE and LRE or inclusion, as it is commonly known, are the tangible manifestations of IDEA.