The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) outlines the continuum of educational placements that public agencies must have available to students receiving special education services. These include instruction in a general education classroom, specialized classes, specialized schools, home instruction, and instruction in residential facilities (more on this below). Public schools must also offer supplementary services such as a resource room or itinerant instruction for students in general education classrooms. This continuum of placement options is available to students receiving special education services so that students with varying needs have access to appropriate placements at no cost to parents. However, school districts often do not have the variety of placement options available. When this is the case, the district must find the appropriate placement by any means required.

We asked special education advocate Dr. Sarah Pelangka to give us the lowdown on some of the more common types of classrooms and/or schools.

General Education Class: This is always the starting point. The district must attempt to make general education work with supplementary services and supports before moving to a more restrictive option.

General Education with Modifications: It is possible to be in a general education class with a modified curriculum. When this is a consideration, I largely recommend that the student have a formal inclusion specialist (or a special education teacher) to support the general education teacher in ensuring the student has the modifications and accommodations they need to be successful.

Co-Taught Classrooms: More and more schools are adopting the model of co-taught classes. In this model, both a special day class (SDC) teacher, as well as a general education teacher, work together in the same classroom for the full day. Resource Pull Out/Push In: Whenever the student’s percentage of time in general education is 51% or more, they’re considered a resource student, which means for a percentage of their day, they are pulled out to work in a small group setting with a credentialed special ed teacher in a separate room. This is not a classroom model, and the resource teacher is not instructing a class; rather, the resource teacher is working on IEP goals, exclusively, with the student and their peers in a very concentrated fashion.

  • In the push-in model, the resource teacher can enter the student’s general education class to provide IEP goal support.

Mild/Moderate Special Day Class (SDC; sometimes referred to as SAI, or specialized academic instruction): This is a more restrictive class, which uses the general education curriculum and may also include intervention curriculum. These classes are smaller and are taught by a credentialed special education teacher at a slower pace.

Moderate/Severe SDC Class: This is a more restrictive SDC class, which uses a modified curriculum. The curriculum taught in a moderate-severe SDC class is often called “Life Skills” or “Functional Skills.” If a student is placed in this setting and remains there until high school, they cannot be on a diploma track. They would be on a Certificate of Completion track. This is important for families to be aware of, as being in this placement up until high school can put the student so far behind that they won’t be able to access a general education curriculum.

Autism SDC Class: As a result of the increase in students with autism, many districts now have autism-specific classrooms in which the special education teacher is also certified to support students with autism. Although legally, districts cannot say that only students with autism can be included in this class, the strategies used within these classrooms are evidence-based to support the autism population.

ED Classes: Districts have programs specific to students with emotional disturbance eligibility. These programs support behavior and social-emotional wellbeing and development, and generally have ready access to a therapist daily. Students are generally on a general education curriculum.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing/Visually Impaired Classes: Some districts may have a class specific to their Deaf and hard of hearing/Blind and visually impaired population. If they do not offer the program within their district, they may look to the neighboring district, a SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area) program, or a county placement. They also may hire an itinerant teacher to provide curricular support and/or related services. Such programs specialize in what those students require to access their education such as sign language, room acoustics, Braille, etc.

County Classroom: If the district does not have the capability to meet the student’s needs, some districts may offer the option of a county class, which is considered more restrictive than a district SDC class. County programs offer daily on-site specialists (such as SLPs, PTs, OTs, behaviorists), allowing more immediate access to services. These classes are smaller and may or may not be on a modified curriculum (ED programs may be a general ed curriculum).

Non-Public School: These are separate schools for students with various disabilities. There are no general education students on campus. All specialists are in-house and readily available to support students. Some NPS accept students on a private-pay basis, and some accept district funding through the IEP process, or a mixture of both.

Home Instruction: Students with disabilities that impact their ability to attend any type of school can receive home instruction. Home-based service providers collaborate with multiple service providers to develop a plan for instruction and offer flexible scheduling options for when services take place. For example, students who have frequent doctor appointments can receive their services one, two, or more days per week during specific hours that don’t interfere with their appointments.

Residential Placement: This would be the most restrictive option in which the student lives at a residential facility where they access their schooling.

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