Placement critical in special education

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Parents need to ensure their child’s best interests are served

Placement of a child who is eligible for special-education services is likely one of the most misunderstood aspects of special education, despite the fact that for many African American parents it can have a great impact on their child’s education. It is crucial to know what a placement is, what goes into determining a placement, what to look for in a good placement, and your right to have a placement reassessed if it is not working for a child.

Placement refers to how much of your child’s school day is spent in a regular classroom or a special-education classroom, and is referred to as a “setting” or “level.” Federal law defines settings or levels from one to six.

“Setting one” is placement primarily in the regular education classroom, while “setting three” is primarily in a special-education classroom. “Settings four, five and six” are placements in a separate school or program.

Sometimes these settings are referred to as a “level” and range from one to five. No matter what term is used, it is important to know that the higher the number, the more time a child spends outside of the regular education classroom.

During the IEP (Individual Education Program), the team determines the best placement for your child. You will want to clearly understand what the placement recommendation is and why the team views it as the best option for your child’s education.

Remember, you are an important part of the team, and the decision rests on your having a good understanding of placement and the need for the recommended placement. You must also agree to the proposed placement.


Federal Settings

• Setting 1: Regular-education student receives special-education services outside the regular classroom less than 21 percent of the school day.

• Setting 2: Resource-room student receives special-education services outside the regular classroom between 21 percent and 60 percent of the school day.

• Setting 3: Separate-classroom student receives special-education services outside the classroom more than 60 percent of the school day.

• Setting 4: Public day-school student receives special-education services in a separate school more than 50 percent of the school day.

• Setting 5: Private day-school student receives special-education services in a separate private day school more than 50 percent of the school day.

Federal law states that children with disabilities should receive special instruction in the regular education class as much time as possible to meet their needs. This is referred to as the “least restrictive environment” or LRE. The goal is to find the best setting in the least restrictive environment that will help your child learn.

Sometimes a child’s disability and needs are best served in a placement outside of the regular-education classroom. To decide what placement is right for your child, think about what makes sense for him right now. What does he need to succeed? Some things to consider when making a decision about placement are:

• What kind of setting does your child learns best in (smaller, less distracting)?

• What kind of setting is least productive (large, unstructured groups)?

• Does he have friends he wants to keep in touch with in the regular-education classroom?

• What level of structure and routine works best for your child?

• Does your child enjoy being with different teachers and kids?

• Are there only one or two areas where your child needs help, or is she struggling with learning most of the school day?

Once a setting has been decided, keep an eye on how well it is working. Your child’s placement is not set in stone. You can always move your child if a placement becomes too hard or is not challenging enough.

An important point to know is that if a child is placed in a level 3-6 setting, the school needs to be making efforts to move the child to a less restrictive setting.

Below are resources where you may direct questions, concerns or complaints about your child’s setting:

• National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota:

• Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights:

• Minnesota Department of Education:

• Minnesota Children with Special Health Needs:

• Minnesota Parent Leadership Network:

• Arc of Minnesota:

• Minnesota Disability Law Center:

• Minnesota Ombudsman for Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health:


Next column: an overview of Emotional Behavioral Disorders (EBD)

Cynthia Fashaw is Children’s Program and Multicultural Outreach director for NAMI Minnesota. For more information, call 651-645-2948 or go to





2 Comments on “Placement critical in special education”

  1. My son has been in a level 4 setting since kindergarten. He is now in 2nd grade. We had to push to even get him 1 class in the regular classroom. Now, he has very high percentages expectations 90% in regular school and 85% in level 4 school on average for a 10 day span before he can have anymore classes added. Upon entering school he was at grade level and now he is almost 2 grades behind… I have called pacer, the special education director, several other schools. But, I cannot find out exactly why he is at the setting he is anymore. The original reasons are either completely gone or barely evident. I have contacts MDE and they are not helpful. I feel I am drowning with information but no clear guide and answer if I can just say no more I want him in regular education or find a different level 4 program this one is not working… Please help if you can.

  2. Contact PACER again. Find a new representative there if the one you have is not helping. We are in Minnesota and PACER has been fantastic for us. Your child has a federal right to be in a LRE (Least Restrictive Environment) for his education. He also has a right to a FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education), Appropriate being to key word here. You also have a right to have him re-evaluated to get a current diagnosis by your school district.

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