The Department of Education says that it does.  In a Dear Colleague Letter issued in January, the Department said it still receives inquiries on whether the least restrictive environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) apply to preschool students with disabilities.

A preschool child with a disability who is eligible to receive special education and related services is entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under Part B of the IDEA and its implementing regulations in 34 CFR Part 300.  One of these guaranteed rights is the right to be educated in the LRE.  The LRE requirements state a strong preference for educating children with disabilities in regular classes alongside their peers without disabilities.  The term “regular class” includes a preschool setting with typically developing peers.

Before a child with a disability can be placed outside of the regular educational environment, the group of persons making the placement decision must consider whether supplementary aids and services could be provided that would enable the education of the child, including a preschool child with a disability, in the regular educational setting to be achieved satisfactorily.  If a determination is made that the education of a particular child with a disability cannot be achieved satisfactorily in the regular education environment, even with supplementary aids and services, that child then could be placed in a setting other than the regular educational setting.

The public education agency responsible for providing a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to the child must make available the full continuum of alternative placements, including instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions.  If a public agency determines that placement in a private preschool program is necessary for a child to receive FAPE, the public agency must make that program available at no cost to the parent.

Certain requirements apply when determining placement options for a child who already participates in a regular public preschool program, including a community-based regular public preschool program operated by a public agency other than the local educational agency.  Those requirements are:

  1. Unless the child’s IEP requires some other arrangement, the child must be educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled.
  2. The placement team, which includes the child’s parent and may include the child’s current teacher, must consider any potential harmful effect on the child and on the quality of services that he or she needs before removing the child from the current regular public preschool setting to another more restrictive setting.
  3. The placement team must also consider whether the local educational agency, in collaboration with the regular public preschool program, can ensure that the child receives all of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services included in the child’s IEP in order to meet the needs of the child.

Ultimately, placement decisions regarding a preschool child with a disability who is served under Part B of the IDEA must be individually determined based on the child’s abilities and needs as described in the child’s IEP.  State and local educational agencies should engage in ongoing short- and long-term planning to ensure that a full continuum of placements is available for preschool children with disabilities.  For more information on these requirements, as well as reporting requirements and the proper use of IDEA funds, see the full Dear Colleague Letter.

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