When I first arrived in Seattle in 2010, I kept hearing the same refrain about how a 1:1 aide in the general education setting impacted least restrictive environment (LRE) by creating a more restrictive environment for a student. Again & again, IEP team members and school lawyers pushed the idea that a 1:1 aide created a highly restrictive special educational placement even if it allowed a student to access the general education setting with his or her typically developing peers. The 1:1 aides were derisively referred to as “velcros” or “shadows” and the bogeyman of “learned helplessness” loomed over any conversation about providing a paraeducator.
Even when I worked for school districts, I found this position disingenuous. While the educators making these incredulous claims seemed sincere, I had to believe they had simply talked themselves into this myth in an effort to avoid the price tag of a dedicated 1:1 aide. But when I began advocating on behalf of students, my efforts to clarify that a 1:1 aide need not stand next to the student all day and that more access to general education pretty clearly enabled LRE were met with those same tired truisms.
Finally, in 2017, a particularly amazing mother seeking more inclusive programming for her daughter in a local school district showed Angela Shapow and me a prior written notice (PWN) justifying the schools’ refusal to increase the student’s time in the general education setting to 50% with the provision of a 1:1 aide. This PWN stated that a 1 :1 aide “is the most restrictive level of service, and the data needed to address the request would need to be collected by the district elementary school special-education team.”
Glad to have it in black and white all teed up to challenge, Angela and I enthusiastically encouraged the mother to file an OSPI citizen’s complaint on this discrete placement issue in a targeted attempt to challenge this flawed-but-prevailing wisdom.
Within its promised 60-day timeframe, OSPI issued a fantastic decision (SECC No. 17-49), providing in no uncertain terms:
The District is incorrect in its belief that 1 :1 paraeducator support is the most restrictive environment for all students. Paraeducator support is a supplementary aid and service, not a placement option on the continuum of alternative placements.
The decision goes on to explain:
When determining a student’s least restrictive environment the District must ensure that the provision of services be provided to the maximum extent appropriate in the general education environment unless the nature or severity of the student’s disability is such that education in genera! education classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. Based on the documentation in this complaint, the District did not base its decision to deny the Parent’s request for 1: 1 aide support on the Student’s individualized needs. The District erred in failing to properly consider if the Student could participate in a general education setting with the provision of 1: 1 aide support.
To its credit, the District subsequently held an IEP meeting resulting in a far more inclusive proposed program.
While OSPI decision are not binding on future individualized determinations, the way this particular decision is written is powerfully persuasive and we have relied on its reasoning to support the proposition that 1:1 aides are a supplementary aid and service to be used in furtherance of promoting a student’s access to the least restrictive environment.
If you are seeking a more inclusive special educational program for your student, the attorneys at Cedar Law will skillfully advocate on your behalf for an IEP that ensures your student is able to meaningfully engage in his least restrictive environment for the benefit of all members of the classroom community.
Read more about inclusion advocacy including some quotes by Lara at https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/washington-kids-with-special-needs-often-denied-right-to-learn-in-general-classes/281-552757498