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 Developing Least Restrictive Environment for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities: A Step by Step Guide for Replication

Beginning in the fall of the 2010-2011 school year, the Georgia Department of Education Special Education Services and Supports placed an emphasis on least restrictive environment for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities as a part of the state’s LRE Initiative.  The initial focus of this emphasis was the inclusion of one student who was previously placed in a self-contained class for students with severe/profound intellectual disabilities into an age-appropriate general education classroom for at least one academic subject.  The goal was to develop sites which would serve as models for replication by other schools across the state. Two schools were selected to pilot the program. The two schools chosen were Kincaid Elementary School in Cobb County and Weaver Middle School in Bibb County.  No additional funding or personnel were provided to these schools or systems.  A consultant was provided to develop and guide the process.  This consultant visited each school once per month over a two year period. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, consultant services ended. The video, Inclusion for Damian at Kincaid Elementary School, chronicles the progress of one first grade student at Kincaid Elementary School.  A step by step guide for implementation can be found below. Supporting examples and resources are listed on the right. Please contact Debbie Reagin at 404-232-1607 or or Susan Brozovic at 404-657-9956 or if further information is needed.

Step by Step Guide for Implementing LRE for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities

Step I:  Initial meeting with stakeholders to include system and school administrators, select teachers and parents, and student(s) when appropriate.

At this meeting the proposed LRE initiative is presented, and the initiative structure is discussed. It should be noted that it is imperative all stakeholders are positive and supportive of the initiative.

Step II:  Identification of possible general education classroom environment takes place including selection of general and special education teachers and paraprofessionals who will work together to provide LRE for the identified student(s).

All teachers and paraprofessionals who will be providing LRE must be positive and supportive of the initiative.  Other criteria to consider are as follows:

  • Demonstrates a belief that all students can learn
  • Has high expectations for all students
  • Holds all students to high standards of achievement
  • Demonstrates good co teaching skills
  • Demonstrates the effective use of research based instructional strategies
  • Demonstrates the effective implementation of accommodations and modifications
  • Demonstrates knowledge of and effective use of assistive technology
  • Demonstrates the effective use of positive behavior supports
  • Demonstrates the use of strategies which allow students with the most significant cognitive disabilities to  access the general education curriculum
  • Demonstrates the ability to work well with other professionals and displays positive interpersonal skills
  • Maintains a positive learning environment in the classroom
  • Makes data based instructional decisions

Step III:  Identification of student or students to be included in the general education classroom

The decision as to LRE for any student is determined by the IEP committee. There should be no pre-determined specified criteria for including or excluding any student in the general education classroom. It may be beneficial to the committee to consider the completion of an LRE/IEP matrix such as that outlined below as a means of assistance in making this decision.

Step IV:  Revision of the IEP to reflect time spent in the general education classroom and needed modifications and accommodations to include assistive technology and support personnel.

The IEP matrix can be used to provide useful information for this process. It should be noted that the use of assistive technology is critical to allowing access to the general education curriculum. A link is provided to the right of this document.

Step V:  A modified MAPS (Making Action Plans) meeting is held.

The MAPS process is a form of person centered planning.  The purpose of the MAPS meeting is to develop a plan of inclusion for the student.  The plan focuses on needed supports to ensure the student’s maximum success in the general education environment and how these supports will be provided. The MAPS meeting can include parents, teachers, other support persons, administrators, peers, friends and family members of the student, and the student. The MAPS meeting is not the same as an IEP meeting. The meeting is chaired by someone not participating in the process. The MAPS meeting usually lasts between one and two hours.  The MAP should be revisited as needed and specifically if those who are a part of the student’s MAP process change or the student is transitioning.   Questions for consideration include but are not limited to the following:

  • Who is (student)?  Participants use one word adjectives that describe the student.
  • What is (student’s) history?  Information is usually provided by the parents and/or student if appropriate and generally includes medical information, personal and family experiences etc.
  • What are our dreams for (student’s) inclusion in ( ) grade?  Any comment should be accepted.  Comments reflect dreams not necessarily realities and should not be judged.
  • What are our nightmares for (student’s) inclusion in ( ) grade?  Any comment should be accepted. Comments reflect nightmares and not necessarily realities.
  • What are our concerns for (student)?
  • What are (student’s) strengths and preferences?  Needs and dislikes?
  • What are (student’s) goals?
  • What works with (student)?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • What will (student’s) ideal day in ( ) grade look like?
  • What is our plan for including (student) in ( ) grade?

Under Related Documents on the right is an example of the actual MAP developed for Damian, the student included at Kincaid Elementary School, one of the pilot schools.

Step VI:  Development of a Circle of Friends

The Circle of Friends prepares peers for the student’s inclusion in the general education classroom and facilitates their involvement in making this inclusion successful.  This meeting takes place during the school day. All classroom peers may be included or the teacher may select specific students to be included in the student’s circle.  The meeting can be facilitated by the teacher, counselor, or other school personnel. Counselors are often trained to facilitate this type of meeting. Parents are not usually in attendance but should give permission for the meeting to take place and for information about their child’s disability to be shared with peers. The student may or may not be in attendance.  The Circle of Friends meeting usually lasts between 30 minutes to one hour.  The meeting begins with a simple discussion about each individual’s uniqueness and about how the student who is to be included is unique.  A brief description of the student’s disability is given and students are allowed to ask questions. Students are then asked to come up with ways they can be a friend to and provide support for the included student.  It may be beneficial to develop the Circle of Friends after the student has been included for a brief time and students have had an opportunity to meet the student and get to know him or her.  The Circle of Friends can be expanded as needed.  Under Related Documents on the right is the example of Circle of Friends ideas for Adam, the student included at Weaver Middle School, one of the pilot schools.

Step VII:  Placement of the student in the general education setting as determined by the MAPS and IEP process takes place.
Factors contributing to student success include:

  • Provision of some common planning time for teachers and paraprofessionals
  • Ongoing administrative and instructional support
  • Ongoing staff development as related to the inclusion of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities
  • Ongoing data based decision making
  • Knowledge of available resources to assist in allowing access to the general education curriculum (A list of resources can be found at the end.)