Least Restrictive Environment and Work Placements – OSEP – June 22, 2012
Work placements must reflect LRE principles, OSEP says
Schools have long understood that they must serve children with disabilities in the LRE. But they must also think about LRE when making work placements, according to OSEP.
The agency's thoughts were conveyed in a letter to three Wisconsin disability groups that had sought the agency's input in December.
"Under the IDEA, a segregated employment program may be an appropriate work placement for a particular student if determined appropriate by that student's IEP Team based on the LRE requirements and the specific individualized needs of that student," it said in Letter to Spitzer-Resnick, Swedeen, and Pugh, 112 LRP 32664 (OSEP 06/22/12). "That is, the IDEA does not prohibit segregated employment, but the LRE provisions would apply equally to the employment portion of the student's program and placement."
That may not seem earth-shaking, according to Lisa Pugh, public policy coordinator for the Disability Policy Partnership, a collaboration between Disability Rights Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities, and the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Wisconsin.
But it may help change the default job placement when schools are trying to help a child with a disability get some work experience, she said.
The letter "allows us to further educate parents, . . . transition teams, and school districts," she said. "It starts a conversation to say, there should be more than one work placement that is offered to a student in a district."
Hoping for more monitoring
LRE was not the only issue that OSEP addressed in its letter. In response to the questions posed by the disability groups, it also said:
· Work placements must be included in an IEP "if an IEP team determines that work placement is an appropriate transition service."
· A work placement that is listed in an IEP "becomes part of the student's educational program and part of the provision of FAPE to the student." Thus, OSEP said, "if a public agency is proposing or refusing to initiate or change a work placement that is part of a child's transition services, the public agency would be required to provide the parent with written notice, as described above, a reasonable time before the proposed placement is initiated or changed."
· The district must provide supplementary aids and services, if needed, to "enable the student to participate with other students with disabilities and nondisabled students in the work placement described in the IEP."
OSEP also addressed the issue of monitoring work placements for compliance with the principles of LRE.
"If there is evidence that a public agency makes placements that are inconsistent with [the LRE requirements at 34 CFR 300.114 ], the SEA must: (1) review the public agency's justification for its actions; and (2) assist in planning and implementing any necessary corrective action," it said.
That's important, Pugh said.
If, for example, all the transition-age students with disabilities in a given district were found to be working in segregated settings, "we're going to push for some kind of monitoring and hope that it raises red flags," she said.
Parsing the letter
The state does have a role in monitoring work placements, according to Patrick Gasper, a spokesman for the Department of Public Instruction.
"Regarding the letter from OSEP, the DPI agrees with its content (that transition services must be based on appropriate measurable post-secondary goals and that it is not appropriate to place a student automatically in a segregated community rehabilitation center)," he said in an email. "It confirms that the SEA has a responsibility to monitor an LEA if evidence exists that the LEA makes placements that are inconsistent with the provisions of IDEA."
He drew a slightly different conclusion, however, about the meaning of the letter when it comes to whether work placements are required to be listed in an IEP.
"We also believe that the letter affirms our position that a work placement does not have to be a part of an IEP," he said.
Gasper's statement may be a reference to the fact that a given student may not have a work placement, as indicated in the letter from OSEP.
"Work placement can be an appropriate transition service, depending on the individual needs of a student," it said, "but is not a required component of all IEPs that address transition services."