The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that all students with disabilities have access to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The intent of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is to meet the unique needs of a student in order to allow meaningful access to FAPE and prepare for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. In some cases, a student may experience significant emotional, behavioral and/or academic challenges that impede access to educational benefit in the current program and setting. When this occurs, an IEP team must consider the full continuum of service and placement options to ensure meaningful access to FAPE based on the individualized needs of the student.
This handbook provides procedural guidance and considerations to IEP teams when considering a Non-Public School (NPS) and/or Residential Treatment Center (RTC) setting as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for a student.
There are several important distinctions between NPA and NPS services. NPS services, as referenced throughout this guide, refers to a student’s placement in a private school or facility, residential or non- residential, because an appropriate public school placement is not available. NPA services are not placements but Designated Instruction and Services (“DIS”) (“Related Services” under federal law) such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, ABA, transportation, etc. which assist a student in benefitting from his/her education. (34 C.F.R. § 300.34(a); Ed. Code §§ 56035 and 56363 (a).)
All schools must establish a system to identify a wide range of supports to address their students’ diverse needs. A Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework is crucial for ensuring appropriate and timely attention to the range of challenges experienced by students. Schools must look closely at their systems to ensure that universal supports, targeted supports, and intensive supports are in place. This approach is critical for supporting students in the LRE. For more information related to tiered social-emotional supports within an MTSS framework, please refer to the EDCOE Charter SELPA ERMHS Program Guidelines.
The IDEA requires that each LEA ensure:
The corresponding image may assist the IEP team when considering the continuum of placement options to establish LRE for a student. It is essential that the IEP team makes data-informed decisions based on the individual student’s needs when determining the appropriate educational placement. The IEP team must consider various placement options and document these options on the Offer of FAPE Services Page of the IEP (see Appendix B).
A unilateral placement occurs when a parent believes that their child’s current program has failed to provide FAPE and therefore places the child in a private placement where they believe FAPE can be achieved. This may occur either against the agreement of or unbeknownst to the IEP Team. The parent either notifies LEA/district of this unilateral placement at the last IEP meeting before the placement was made or via a letter 10 business days prior to the unilateral placement change.
For more information in responding to unilateral placements, please refer to the Unilateral Placement section in the Charter SELPA’s Procedural Guide.
If a student is not accessing FAPE in their current setting, the LEA has an obligation to convene an IEP team meeting to discuss the student’s identified needs and progress towards their current IEP goals. This may include initiating additional assessments to gain information about at student’s present levels of performance to drive identified needs, goals, and supplementary aids/supports/services. For more information regarding the referral process and NPS/RTC placement please refer to page 13 of this document. Such concerns may be related to safety, chronic attendance issues affiliated with the student’s disability, recent hospitalizations and/ or being at risk for suicide. For information addressing self-harm, suicide, and student re-entry after a mental- health-related hospitalization please refer to the EDCOE SELPA/Charter SELPA’s handbook, Suicide & Self-Harm: A Prevention & Response Toolkit for Educators.
The following considerations are designed to assist the IEP team in determining barriers to FAPE in the student’s current setting. These considerations are by no means exhaustive, nor should this list be utilized as a checklist of criteria to be met. It is at the discretion of the IEP team to determine what the primary factor(s) inhibiting a student’s access to FAPE may be.
The considerations above are an integral part of the referral and placement determination processes. After discussing the considerations aligned with the unique needs of the student, the IEP team must determine whether all needs can be appropriately met in the student’s current setting, whether additional assessment is required, or whether existing data justifies an alternative placement.
NPS placements can be complex and require careful deliberation amongst the IEP team. When considering NPS/RTC placement, a Program Specialist from the EDCOE Charter SELPA must be contacted to provide additional programmatic guidance. Please note: the EDCOE Charter SELPA Program Specialist may only provide programmatic support and is not a decision-making member of the IEP team.
In addition to the factors listed when considering NPS placement, the following factors should also be considered for potential Residential Treatment Center (RTC) placements:
Educational needs and emotional needs are “inextricably intertwined” and residential care is necessary to provide special education and related services to a child with a disability (34 CFR 300.104).
These considerations are by no means exhaustive, nor should this list be utilized as a checklist of criteria to be met.
RTC placements can be complex and require careful deliberation amongst the IEP team. When considering NPS/RTC placement, a Program Specialist from the EDCOE Charter SELPA must be contacted to provide additional programmatic guidance as needed. Please note: the EDCOE Charter SELPA Program Specialist provides programmatic support and is not a decision-making member of the IEP team.
Any person involved with a student’s IEP team may suggest NPS/RTC placement. However, it is the responsibility of the IEP team to determine whether the student requires NPS/RTC as part of FAPE. If any member of the IEP team becomes aware of a request for an NPS/RTC placement, the LEA must hold an IEP as soon as possible, but no later than thirty days following the date from which a need for a change of placement was suspected. When an NPS/RTC placement is being considered, the LEA shall reach out to their EDCOE Charter SELPA Program Specialist to discuss placement considerations and procedures. The following graphic outlines the process for considering and offering an NPS/RTC placement: