In California, Regional Centers are charged with providing early intervention services (under IDEA, Part C) and the school districts are charged with providing services for children with disabilities starting at age 3 years (under IDEA, Part B). In our advocacy practice, we have seen schools base educational placement decisions on trying to match the setting most similar to the early intervention program the child was previously receiving. We have seen this practice become even more pronounced during the current COVID Pandemic (2020).
The problem is that using a child’s current setting (early intervention services) as rationale for offering a more restrictive environment is inherently biased. Most, if not all, early intervention programs are designed specifically for children with disabilities (and some allow a few “typical” peers to participate)1. This is NOT the least restrictive environment (LRE) 2. Early intervention, in general, is extremely beneficial to children with any type of disability. However, receipt of early intervention services should never make it harder for a child to be included with typical peers in the regular education environment.
Every child should be placed in the general education setting unless the IEP team (which includes the parents!) agrees that a more restrictive setting is necessary.
1 Natural environment defined in Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):
Each system must include policies and procedures to ensure, consistent with §§303.13(a)(8) (early intervention services), 03.26 (natural environments), and 303.344(d)(1)(ii) (content of an IFSP), that early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities are provided—
(a) To the maximum extent appropriate, in natural environments; and
(b) In settings other than the natural environment that are most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the IFSP Team, only when early intervention services cannot be achieved satisfactorily in a natural environment.
Natural environments means settings that are natural or typical for a same-aged infant or toddler without a disability, may include the home or community settings, and must be consistent with the provisions of §303.126.
In our experience, few Regional Centers offer home-based services unless families specifically request it. The default tends to be to start children in a center-based program.
2 LRE is defined in the law as: “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.”