The IEP process includes requirements and actions that ensure IEP teams have the information needed to discuss and consider access to and participation in high-quality inclusive settings for every young child with a disability during IEP placement discussions. This document lists important actions in the IEP development process along with guiding principles and practices that should inform placement decisions for young children with disabilities.
This guidance document is organized by important actions within the IEP process and includes reference to the corresponding IDEA rules and regulations to each action. Within each action, a guiding principle is listed followed by additional guidance and resources. Most of the principles in this document are from ECTA Center's Key Principles and Key Practices Underlying the IEP Process. Ideally, states and local programs will adapt this document by adding their own strategies, resources, and guidance to support sound placement decisions. This document does not represent all requirements of IEP development but focuses on the key actions for ensuring that a sound IEP placement decision is made.
The U. S. Departments of Health & Human Services and Education developed a Policy Statement on Inclusion of Children with Disabilities in Early Childhood Programs to promote the Departments' position that all young children with disabilities should have "access to inclusive high-quality early childhood programs, where they are provided with individualized and appropriate support in meeting high expectations." However, across the country, children with disabilities and their families face significant barriers of access to and participation within high-quality inclusive settings. The joint policy statement states, "too many preschool children with disabilities are only offered the option of receiving special education services in settings separate from their peers without disabilities".
Key areas of the Policy Statement document encourage:
Discussion of guiding principles that should drive the preschool IEP team's decision-making process within the context of the IEP process.
Sharing the barriers that impact the preschool IEP team's ability to implement the guiding principles.
Providing solutions and resources that can be used to address the barriers to high-quality inclusive opportunities.
Guiding Questions for Discussing Services in the LRE
Once the IEP team has documented a child's strengths, needs, developed goals for the child, and considered special factors, the team may begin to discuss placement. The discussion begins with the supplementary aids and services a child would need to have their IEP successfully implemented in the early childhood program they attend (if any) or in a regular early childhood program. It is critical that the needs of the family are considered. Many families need to access child care to be able to work. A family should never have to choose between attending the child care of their choice and receiving special education services. These questions are designed to guide the placement discussion; but are not intended to be a list used at every meeting. The IEP team should supplement these questions as needed.
For children attending a regular early childhood program:
How is the child doing in the early childhood program they are attending?
Does the family want the child to remain in the program?
Continue the discussion with these questions, or begin here for children who do not attend a regular early childhood program:
What aids and supports would the child need to be successful?
Can the IEP be implemented in the regular early childhood program with needed aids and supports?
Will the proposed placement allow the family to access child care, if needed?
What regular early childhood programs are in the school district and community?
Will the regular early childhood program support the collaboration and specialized instruction for the child?
Will transitions for the child be reduced or increased in this setting?
Will time in transport to the setting be similar to transport time for children without disabilities?
How would transit time impact the child's learning time and the length of their day?
Will the parents have children in different elementary schools?
What are the benefits for the child and family?
What are the preferences of the family?
Does the family prefer supports and services provided in the everyday activities and routines in the home? Is home an appropriate place to implement the IEP?
Are there other placements that may be best for this child, and why?
Will the family be able to visit the setting before agreeing to the proposed placement?
Does the team agree on the early childhood placement that is the appropriate option?
Actions within an Effective IEP Process
Following the IEP development process is critical to determining the best placement for each young child with a disability. The IEP team, which includes the family, determines placement following the guiding principles and key characteristics listed below.
Involve families meaningfully as critical members of the team in all aspects of the IEP process, beginning with the referral, and through authentic assessment and evaluation. Throughout the preschool special education process, ensure that the child's individual strengths and needs, along with the family's culture, priorities, and preferences, are respected and reflected.
Preschool special educators and staff in collaboration with Part C staff use a variety of planned and timely strategies with the child and family before, during, and after the transition to support successful adjustment and positive outcomes for both the child and family.
Districts provide a comprehensive evaluation for every child that considers the child's abilities in all areas of development, including learning styles and interests to effectively identify individual strengths and needs.
District personnel discuss family priorities, preferences and culture.
District personnel ensure that every member of the team has a voice.
Encourage parents to identify others who know the child well to participate in the IEP (for example, early intervention staff, or service coordinator if the child is attending an early childhood program or receiving services in Early Intervention).
Preschool special educators and related service providers provide and support high-quality services in collaboration with families, teachers and caregivers to promote positive outcomes for children and families.
Districts may schedule the IEP meeting outside the typical day.
Districts may offer to fund a substitute for the early childhood program to be able to release the teacher for the IEP meeting Consider the use of technology to involve those who are not able to attend the IEP meeting in person.
Professionals encourage others to provide information in writing if they are not able to attend the IEP meeting.
Document, as a team, the present levels of the child's early learning and functional development across all domains and focus on skills, strengths, and behaviors in the context of everyday activities and routines.
Professionals adhere to the belief that throughout the preschool special education process, the child's individual strengths and needs, along with the family's culture, priorities, and preferences, are respected and reflected.
The IEP team develops IEP goals based on multiple sources of information, including family concerns and authentic assessment, that support and promote access to and participation in the preschool curriculum.
The IEP team collaboratively develops IEP goals to address the child's identified needs and promote positive developmental outcomes.
Early childhood professionals recognize that preschoolers learn best through meaningful everyday experiences and interactions within developmentally, linguistically and culturally appropriate routines, play, and activities in inclusive settings.
Early childhood professionals including regular and special education teachers and related service providers provide developmentally appropriate learning experiences that are based on recommended practices.
Preschool professionals understand that the primary role of preschool special educators and related service providers is to provide and support high-quality services in collaboration with families, teachers and caregivers to promote positive outcomes for children and families.
Discuss transportation as a related service if it is required to assist the child with a disability to benefit from special education and related services. This may include transportation to and/or from preschool or child care.
The IEP Team considers if the need for transportation causes a burden or increases transitions.
Districts consider alternative transportation, such as paying the parent for transporting a child.
Districts consider state transportation requirements. Many states have laws establishing a maximum travel time and rules about how preschool aged children should be transported. Some states allow young children to ride on regular school bus.
Preschool professionals provide prior written notice that should be written to provide a notice of the agreed upon actions and contain a description of placement options the team considered and the reasons why those choices were rejected.
These guides can be used to foster discussion or to provide personnel development to IEP team members.
Fact or Fiction: Do We Agree?
In this activity, participants explore important attitudes and beliefs about inclusion, including facts, fictions, and myths, culminating with a discussion of the research that supports the facts. Understanding the facts on inclusion is critical in making sound LRE decisions for each and every child, especially for children who have been historically underrepresented and underserved. (45-60 min.)
In this activity, participants discuss questions to discover where attitudes and beliefs come from, and how they are shaped, gaining an increased understanding of how attitudes and beliefs can influence team members when making sound preschool LRE decisons. (20-60 min.)
In this activity, participants watch a short video, then discuss the importance of parent perspective when making sound preschool LRE decisons, gaining a shared understanding of the impact attitudes and beliefs have on how inclusion is perceived. (30-60 min.)
In this activity, participants explore essential elements of inclusion, and work to create a shared definition of the concept. IEP teams will need and use this shared understanding to guide discussions when making sound preschool LRE decisons for each and every child, especially those who have been historically underrepresented and underserved. (15-45 min.)
In this activity, participants respond to a video featuring parents and providers describing the impact of inclusive practices on the students in their programs, and create a list of strategies and positive outcomes from supportive structures. The contents of the list can impact making sound preschool LRE decisions. Participants will also consider ways to share facts with programs, families, and communities to dispel myths about inclusive settings. (45-60 min.)