The Individuals with disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the principle federal statute that has been mandated to authorize federal aid for the education of more than 6 million children with disabilities nationally (Huefner, 2008, p.371). IDEA guarantees eligible students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), therefore, education becomes free to both the child and the parent in the sense that, the school, insurance company or any other specified state agency will incur the costs of education for the child. The IDEA statute is made up of two components: The due process provisions that detail parental rights and the permanently authorized grant that has been set for the provision of federal state funding to various states. The States that manage to receive the educational federal fund are required by the law to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education to all the children with any forms of disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). It is one of the fundamental requirements by the IDEA that the child with a disability will receive a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Before 1975, most of the then almost 4 million disabled children in the United States were being denied meaningful participation in the realm of public education. It was due to this reason that a federally proposed study was carried out and relied upon law authors. The findings of the study showed that nearly half of these children had become entirely excluded from public schools. It also found that, another population of the disabled school going children with disabilities were being placed segregated classrooms which were grossly inadequate or in the normal or regular classrooms, but without any form of meaningful support (Osborne & Dimattia, 1994, p.13). It is this study that led the civil rights movement and the Brown v. Board of Education decision, together with the parent of the children with disabilities moved to courts to seek redress. At this period, two United States courts created the required foundation for both local and State obligation to make quality and free education available to children with disabilities. Through the ruling Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Pennslyvannia (1971) and the famous Mills v. Board of Education (1972), the courts were able to establish the national wide right of all the children with disability in regard to a free and appropriate public education in the Least Restrictive Environment (Zirkel, 2013, p.504).
In the light of this ruling by the court, more than 30 states had passed the legislation by 1975, thereby guaranteeing the children with disabilities access to free, and appropriate public education in LRE (Tell, 1995, p.580). Additionally, the subsequent court decisions and these State Laws set a hefty financial burden on the local and State schools districts. Nonetheless, in response to the financial constraints that emanated from this move of making education free for all the children with disabilities, in 1975, the congress passed the Education for all the Handicapped Children Act, which is nowadays known as IDEA. Therefore, the main purpose that led to the formation of the IDEA was to enable the use of federal funds to support both the local and State-made efforts in educating children with disabilities, and also to alleviate the heavy financial strains created by this endeavour. This occurred because it was not the intent of the Congress to fully fund the free, appropriate public education for the children with disabilities.
Mandates the Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment in the public school system creates a sense of equality and easier access to education by the children with disability in the United States.
According to the article on Teaching exceptional children (2001), all the children in the US, including those that have disabilities, possess the right to experience all the settings, interactions and relationships that would end up supporting and furthering their development in the field of education and learning. It is fair and also imperative for the children with disabilities to enjoy the same privileges that the children without disabilities enjoy. Therefore, the families of the children with disabilities are also entitled to the same options that other children have and, in fact, receive additional support and services that may enable their children to take advantage of the state and local support, and become active participants in their day-to-day lives. This article also expound on the issues and advantages of Least Restrictive Environments on the children with disabilities. It states that, the access to LRE:
- Allows the families and the children with disabilities to live a more typical life
- Expands the available options for support and services
- Highly promotes the aspect of community acceptance for the children who possess various forms of disabilities.
- It also ensures that both the children with and without disabilities can comfortably interact and establish friendship relationships amongst themselves
- It explains that LRE will prepare the child with a disability to live successfully within their society or community.
The explanation brought forth by this article is further supported by article The Least Restrictive Environment: A Place or a Context? Authored by Robert Rueda and Margaret Gallego. Robert and Margaret brilliantly uses the sociocultural framework to design and propose an expanded view of the Least Restrictive Environment (Rueda and Gallego, 2000, p.70). Its major focus is on the issue of individual child interactions within the social organisation of a particular activity setting rather than that of the physical location. This can be either a regular or special education classroom. Under this context, the article further explains that the decisions about when and how the child should receive support and services is normally referred to as educational placement. It is the IEP team, which is composed of parents, teachers and various authority bodies in the school, decides the issue of educational placement for the child with disability (Thomas & Rapport, 1998, p.66). It is the IEP team that deliberates on the general education of the child on a full-time basis, they can consider the most appropriate setting under the options such as the use of resource rooms, home or hospital instruction and special schools.
It is worth noting that Free Appropriate public education consists of three general subsections: the area of general education, extracurricular activities and non-academic activities. Therefore, any person or an organisation that tries to exclude a child with disabilities from the above listed areas without following the rules that contain the procedural safeguards is a denial of FAPE to the child (Butera, et al., 1998, 102). The IDEA has also put extensive guidelines on how to determine whether a child with disabilities can be educated in regular education satisfactorily within the classroom setting with supplementary aids and services. Some of the factors that the IDEA has directed that they must be followed by the IEP questions on:
- What efforts have been made by the relevant authorities or officials to accommodate the child with disabilities in a normal or regular classroom and what were the outcome of this endeavour?
- What were the additional efforts that the IPE has made i.e. supplementary services and aids, in the regular classrooms?
- After making all those efforts, what were the probable significant negative effects for the inclusion of a child with disabilities to the other children without disability?
In most cases, the Least Restrictive Environment is often known as “mainstreaming”. It is through this approach that one can determine the circumstances under which a school district may opt to place the children with disabilities in various special education programs that are segregated from other children whom are not disabled. According to The Least Restrictive Environment Mandate and the courts the United States court of appeal, in 1991clearly described the role of mainstream policy in regard to LRE in the Florence County v. Shannon Carter case. This was a case that involved Shannon carter, who is twenty two year old at the time the ruling was made. Shannon had been performing very poorly since her sixth grade, although she performed below average she was never learning disabled. It is after she was transferred to private school and still performed poorly that it was prompted for additional tests to be carried on her to determine if there was something amiss. The school psychologist concluded that indeed, she was learning disabled as explained in the South Carolina State Department of Education (SDE). Therefore, although her learning disability went unknown for four years, the court ruled that it was comparatively severe. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) was proposed for her. This IEP, unfortunately, failed to work on her leading to more legal battles between Shannon’s parents and Trident Academy about the issue of reimbursement.
Arguably one of the major importance of LRE is the notion of an all-inclusive environment that has been provided for to children with disabilities through ease of access to quality education. It is for this reason that many district schools across the US have developed the popular “hybrid” programs aimed at providing special education to these particular children. Normally, a typical preschool hybrid program is modelled to educate children with disabilities in a classroom that also includes the children who are not disabled. This is done solely to make the “develop”, both the disabled and non-disabled. Basing on the precedents explained by the law article updating the FAPE Standard under IDEA authored by Dixie Snow Huefner, the IDEA’s mainstreaming requirement requires an LRE under only two situations. The first circumstance is whereby, the education in a regular classroom, even when supplementary services and aids have been achieved, could not be achieved satisfactorily (Huefner, 2008, p.367), Secondly, the other situation is during a situation where a regular classroom is very far from the child’s home location, the IDEA proposes that the LRE should be with a commuting distance for a child with a disability (Huefner, 2008, p.374).
What about an unfunded mandate? Although previous media has been suggesting that the IDEA is underfunded, it should not be perceived plainly to being an “underfunded mandate” of the federal government (Aldersley, 2002, p.170), Aldersley further explains that IDEA is a discretional grant program that allows States to choose to participate. Therefore, though, at the moment, no State has opted out, they have the liberty to forego federally funded IDEA so as to avoid complying with their IDEA due process requirements. The procedural safeguards put down by IDEA includes a series of obligations that have been bestowed upon the school districts to involve parents in various ways. However, sometimes one questions themselves about what would happen when an attempt to involve the parents fails or breaks down into conflict? The IDEA design establishes that the general forum of educational decision making would, therefore, be the IEP meeting between all the involved parties (Zirkel, 2009, p.174).
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