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Less required energy: a response to Danielson and Bellamy.

ABSTRACT: Perhaps the most significant finding presented by Danielson and Bellamy( see previous article) is consistency of the application of least restrictive environment LRE) over time such a significant variation in that application between states. This article suggests that LRE as a concept is semantically and traditionally loaded with location rather than service due to the greater ease with which location-related applications can be made. n Is it possible that school systems, in attempting to comply with least-restrictive-environment (LRE) regulations, have taken a least restrictive route by defining the concept narrowly and applying it minimally-thereby calling for less required energy? Energy being defined here as both the resources and the effort to realize measurable outcomes beyond the simple continuum of settings in which special education services are provided. In other words, the traditional continuum may represent a course of least resistance. The data provided by Danielson and Bellamy (see previous article) contribute to the conclusion reached by Taylor (1988) where, in a comprehensive and critical analysis of the LRE principle, he argues that the concept is conceptually and philosophically flawed.

In my view, the most significant finding presented by Danielson and Bellamy is that while the movement toward less restrictive placement has changed little over time, the application of the concept of LRE has varied greatly across states; One could argue that both the resistance to change and the variability may be due in large part to a misconception of LRE, rather than to any extensive real variations in the actual conditions or circumstances that may exist within and between the states.

This article takes the position that the conditions reported by Danielson and Bellamy represent more of the state of current understanding of what LRE means rather than the state of the art in applying a well-defined concept. Danielson and Bellamy have allowed that there may be reporting errors in their findings, but this response assumes that the data are accurately reported. If it is later shown that some of the data are inaccurate or exaggerated in some significant way, then some of these reactions may have to be tempered. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ENVIRONMENT"? The forerunner of LRE was least restrictive alternative (LRA). That term was apparently location-bound and, in an attempt to broaden the concept of least restrictiveness, policy-makers began to use the term least restrictive environment instead. The change in terms may have been made to expand the concept, but a change in applying the concept has been slow in coming. Virtually everyone would agree that the word environment means more than location. Yet when paired with the term "least restrictive" in the application of services for students who are handicapped, the term has remained almost exclusively a term of literal placement without reference to conditions or circumstances that exist in that location.

As generally used, LRE represents an issue of the availability of facilities, and/or an issue of advocacy pressure to be physically located in a given place, rather than an issue of the program effectiveness of the conditions existing in that place. Physical placement as an end in itself cannot represent LRE fully. But it does represent a simple concept and therefore requires less energy to implement than would a more service-oriented application of LRE.

A more comprehensive concept of LRE is one that starts by identifying a student's specific needs and then asking what are the most normal conditions under which those needs can be provided (Hitzing, 1987). If a student's handicapping condition does not in and of itself define a need, then no need exists relative to that handicap. To assume otherwise sets up a false premise which can serve as the foundation for any number of more restrictive alternatives, (e.g., emotionally disturbed students need a separate facility).

A deaf person needs a program which accommodates his or her loss of hearing. If a hearing aid is all that is needed (as defined by the nature and severity of the handicap), then the LRE is any location whatsoever that is normal for a child of that age and other presenting characteristics, so long as a hearing aid is provided and working.

If a hearing aid is not sufficient, and one or more alternative forms of communication such as signing, are needed, then again, the physical location of the person does not determine the least restrictive environment, but rather the conditions surrounding the person. To educate a deaf person with other deaf persons because it is easier to assemble the needed services in one place may be a practical solution to a financial problem, but it does not make the separate facility the least restrictive environment for deaf students. Again, it is the path of least resistance.

Furtherrmore, a program-oriented LRE may vary over time. While learning to sign, a deaf student may need intensive and concentrated training in a separate class where he or she learns signing (although there is nothing absolute about that need either, because signing could be taught to all students in the regular classroom if desired). But, even if the separate class is the preferred method, once the skill of signing is learned, the LRE reverts to the same conditions presented by the hearing aid example: As long as someone is present who signs for the deaf person, all other issues related to physical location are irrelevant to the concept of LRE.

Danielson and Bellamy report that their data were analyzed across all handicapping conditions "because states exercise flexibility in defining handicapping conditions and sometimes use different categorical systems or none at all" (p. 449, previous article). That point is highly supportive of the idea that the providers relate to location-bound LRE without reference specifically to the type of handicapping condition. Program needs vary with the individual not by the category into which individuals are placed. Using the traditional concept of LRE provides justification for what Wang, Reynolds, and Walberg (1987) refer to as a "second system of education" that appears to be based largely on change in placement rather than on the quality of the service provided. LOCATION-BOUND VERSUS SERVICE-DEFINED LRE To refocus the issue, consider the question, "Is there any type of student need (i.e., a need defined by a given handicap) that cannot be provided in the regular classroom, given all of the necessary supports that might be required?" I have asked that question many times, and the answer has always been a qualified no." That is, the educational needs of any student, however handicapped he or she may be, can conceivably be met in the regular classroom if the funds and the will exist to provide the necessary support services. Thus, any idea that LRE is restricted to a location is a moot point. The issue of LRE becomes instead one of available funds or personal opinions about what is "appropriate" for a given student with a handicapping condition.

It would seem that the concept of LRE as it has been traditionally defined and applied is an artificial one; it tells more about the limitations of the service providers than it does about the best location and/or conditions needed by the recipients of the services. Thus, one cannot render a student's educational program appropriate if the services needed are provided in a location selected because it is preferred or more affordable when the same service could just as easily (though more expensively) be provided in a more normal location.

In a situation where LRE is defined as a service-provision function, any discussion of LRE will focus first on what it takes to make a given student function effectively in the regular classroom. if it is possible to meet that student's needs in that setting, then the LRE is always going to be the regular classroom with the provision of appropriate supports that optimize the learning experience for the student. Beyond this point, LRE becomes a matter of cost and philosophical preference (e.g., parental preference, school system tradition, political and fiscal realities). WHAT ABOUT COST? It is often argued that there are not enough dollars to pay for effective services in the regular classroom, for example, for severely handicapped students. It can be argued that a disproportionate number of available resources have been used for mildly handicapped students, leaving less than what is needed for the more severely handicapped. Further, it can be argued that many, if not most, of the mildly handicapped students in categories such as learning disabilities, educably mentally retarded, and emotionally disturbed are in fact mis-diagnosed curriculum casualties Gickling & Thompson, 1985). The results of alternative prereferral strategies have shown that the learning situations of a fair majority of these students, traditionally referred to special education, can be effectively ameliorated without any special education placement per se (Reschly, 1988).

Further, the actual costs involved in providing services to handicapped students in the more restrictive settings vary about as much across school districts as do the proportion of students placed in these settings. A soon-to-be-published report (Moore, et al. 1988) looks at the cost and patterns of special-education service delivery nation-wide. The per-pupil expenditures across providers for mildly handicapped students in self-contained classes ranged from $3,738 to $8,518. The per-pupil expenditures across providers for students with low-incidence conditions ranged from $5,728 to $10,582. And the variability was even greater for the residential placements. WHAT ABOUT PULOSOPICAL PREFERENCE? It is necessary to examine the biases involved in making LRE decisions. To what extent have the available special education dollars been used to serve the curriculum casualties, opening the door to the argument that LRE for the severely handicapped is too expensive? Or is that argument only a rationale for a philosophical preference? The concept of LRE can be changed from the location-bound tradition to a more service-oriented application. But do educators (and parents) want that change?

It is vital that educators include parents as full partners in the development and application of the concept of LRE, and that means considering parental biases and preferences as well. We as educators have contributed greatly to the widespread constituent belief that separate classrooms, separate facilities, are somehow better. Students, parents, and professional educators must all be willing to reevaluate just what constitutes the least restrictive environment.

For example, LRE placement is only as effective as the understanding of the service providers. An inadequate understanding of each potential service provider's role can lead to the misperception that LRE is somehow restricted to conditions where only the handicapped student receives the services paid for by special education funds. Suppose, for example, that the least restrictive environment for an emotionally disturbed student is the regular class and that such a setting requires the team-teaching of both a trained teacher who deals with the entire group including the emotionally disturbed student and a teacher certified in the area of emotional disturbances who provides the emotionally disturbed student(s) with an appropriate education in the LRE? Should not our definition of LRE be flexible enough to pay all or a portion of these teachers' salaries?

Educators need more creative thinking about the concepts of least restrictive environment-concepts that deal with the services needed in a least restrictive environment, rather than the placement of the student's physical body in a physically less restrictive location. The service-oriented concept may require more energy on the part of school system personnel, but the exercise will make for a healthier school system. REFERENCES Gickling, E. E., & Thompson, V. P. (1985). A personal view of curriculum-based assessment. Exceptional Children, 52, 205-218. Hitzing, W. (1987). Community living alternatives for persons with autism and severe behavior problems. In D. J. Cohen and A. Donnellan (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders (pp. 396-410). New York: John Wiley. Moore, M. T., Strang, E. W., Scwartz, M., & Braddock, M. (1988). Patterns in special education service delivery and cost. Washington, DC: Decision Resources Corp. Reschly, D. J. (1988). Special education reform: School psychology revolution. School Psychology Review, 17, 459-475. Taylor, S. J. (1988). Caught in the continuum: A critical analysis of the principle of the least restrictive environment. The Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 13, 41-53. Wang, M. C., Reynolds, M. C., Walberg, H. J. 1987). Integrating children of the second system. Paper presented at the Wingspread Conference on "The Education of Children With Special Needs: Gearing Up to Meet the Challenges of the 1990's." Available from [Temple University Center for Research in Human Development and Education, 9th Floor, Ritter Hall Annex, 13th Street & Cecil B. Moore Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19122. 1)
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Title Annotation:Louis C. Danielson, G. Thomas Bellamy, placement of handicapped children
Author:Tucker, James A.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Previous Article:State variation in placement of children with handicaps in segregated environments.
Next Article:Special education placement: is it what you know or where you live?

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