You’ve had your IEP meeting, and now you are waiting patiently for your placement offer from the Department of Education.
If your child is receiving special education services for the first time, a school placement offer must come within 60 school days of when you provided consent to evaluate your child. If your child is already receiving special education services and you have had an annual IEP review meeting, it will simply arrive sometime before the first day of school.
But if the placement offer doesn’t arrive with enough time for a parent to arrange a visit to tour the proposed placement, or if no placement letter arrives at all, or if the placement site refuses to allow you to tour—share this with your attorney or advocate. Some Impartial Hearing Officers view a district’s refusal to allow a parent to observe a proposed placement as evidence that it is not appropriate.
But let’s assume that the placement offer arrives with plenty of time to schedule a visit and that the site is welcoming and happy to accommodate a tour. You grab a notebook and a pen and head out the door for the visit with an open mind—but what are you there to observe exactly?
First, let’s talk about what you see. The person conducting the tour may have a route in mind that will no doubt include the classroom, but you should also ask to see (as applicable):
· All spaces your child will be educated in (for ST, OT, PT, and any other pull-out related services and specials like art, gym, music, etc.)
· Nursing and counseling offices
· The hallways during the transition between classes
· The cafeteria during lunch time
· The playground at recess
· Arrival/Dismissal (or you can do this on your own standing outside the school)
What observations you make note of and what specific questions you ask will necessarily be tailored to the unique needs of your child and the type of program you are touring. We’ve put together a list of general questions to give you some ideas.
· Can my child’s IEP be implemented at this site? Does the school offer the class type/ratio listed on your child’s IEP? Can the school offer the related services your child is mandated for (number of sessions per week, correct length of sessions, group vs individual sessions, push-in vs pull-out)? Can the school serve all the health and physical management needs listed on your child’s IEP?
· Is the staffing appropriate? Is the staff trained to accommodate your child’s communication, health, behavior, and safety needs? If there is more than one teacher, are both teachers there all day? What role do classroom paras play? Is there special education support during ‘specials,’ like music or art? Who will be with your child during lunch and recess, for bathroom trips, to and from the bus, and between classes?
· Is the peer group appropriate? Enrollment obviously changes a little from year to year, but based on the current peer group: What are the behavior management needs in the classroom and how are they managed? What is the age range? Where is the class academically in terms of math and reading? How many students have IEPs? How many students total? What classifications do children in the class have? How many children are verbal? What behavioral or social expectations will your child have to meet to be successful in this class? Will your child have access to other kids who make sense as learning peers?
· Is the physical classroom space appropriate? Is the classroom large enough to accommodate the students and children comfortably and safely? Is there light? Is there a sensory break space? Are there appropriate seating and work spaces for your child? Where is the bathroom in relation to the classroom? What kinds of toys, books, puzzles, and other materials are in the classroom and do they make sense for your child’s level of functioning? What physical modifications are made for children with adaptive, sensory, and physical differences? If 1:1 related services are provided in the classroom, where does that take place?
· What other settings will my child be educated in? If related services are pull-out, are those rooms appropriate (noise, equipment, etc.)? Will your child be able to get adaptive physical education or regular PE outdoors or in a gymnasium, and how many other children will be using that space when your child is there? If your child moves between classrooms for different subjects, where are those rooms in the building and does someone accompany your child? Will your child be using elevators and stairwells? How many students are in the halls between classes?
· What methodology and modifications are used in the classroom? Is there a specific methodology the teacher uses? How does the teacher modify curriculum or organize the classroom to support the students?
· What common spaces will my child use and how? How big is the school? How many students are in the building in total? What is the age range of the students in the building? Where will your child eat snacks and meals, how will they get there, and who will supervise them? If there is a cafeteria, how many other students eat at the same time? Where is bus line-up and how is that managed? Where is recess, how is it supervised, and how many other students will have recess with your child?
· Are there safety concerns? What is the school’s safety record (injuries, elopement, etc.)? How many exits does the building have and how are they secured? How are halls, stairwells, closets, elevators, windows, etc. supervised and secured? How are allergies managed?
· Is the school accessible? Can your child physically navigate this environment as independently as they are capable of?
· What are the inclusion opportunities? For self-contained placements, what opportunities are there for your child to interact with mainstreamed peers? Will your child participate in all school functions, extra-curricular opportunities, and school trips?
· How far from my home is the school and how long will it take my child to get here?
After you have toured, you will need to decide if you want to accept the district’s placement offer. If you decide to reject it, you should consult with your attorney or advocate about your next steps.