Changing Placement: Helpful Legal References

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My principal is requiring that I have meetings to change students’ IEPs to correct the location of services under the direct service hours part of their IEPs.  All of their current IEPs state the location as “Special Education Setting.” Presently, a non-certified assistant is fulfilling direct service hours in an inclusive setting in the morning.

In the IEP, for location of services, could the “Special Education Setting” be interpreted as a setting where a special education teacher is present, such as in an inclusion classroom?

Good questions. It sounds like your principal is asking you to take actions about IEPs that are improper and illegal.

The law requires placement decisions to be made by a team – usually the team that developed the child’s IEP. Parents are required members of that team. Schools are required to offer a continuum of placements from regular ed class with supplementary services and supports to a special ed class, special ed school, home, hospital etc.

I expect you may have to deal with more requests to do things that are not legal.

Legal references are useful when you are dealing with an administrator who is not familiar with the legal requirements for placement, paraprofessionals, etc.

The following text is from Chapter 10 – Placement in our book, Wrightslaw: All About IEPs. The book includes over 200 questions and answers about IEPs. Each answer includes endnotes that reference the law or regulation that we relied on in the answer.


Placement Decisions
After the IEP team makes decisions about your child’s needs and the special education program, a team will decide your child’s placement — where the services will be provided. Placement decisions must be individualized and based on your child’s unique needs as described in the IEP.[i]

Who decides where my child will be placed?
In some states, the IEP team makes the placement decision. In other states, the decision may be made by another group of people who are knowledgeable about the child.

Do I have a say in decisions about my child’s placement?
Yes. Parents are members of any group that decides their child’s educational placement.[ii] The team must include people who know:

  • The child
  • What the evaluation results mean
  • What types of placements are appropriate

How does the team decide on a child’s placement?
The first option the team must consider is placement in the general education classroom at the school your child would attend if not disabled.[iii] The team needs to answer these questions:

  • Can this child be educated satisfactorily in the general education classroom?
  • What supplementary aids, services, and supports does the child need to be educated in the general education classroom?[iv]

Are there any rules about placement decisions?
Yes. Your child’s placement must be:

  • Based on your child’s unique needs as documented in the IEP
  • Determined at least once a year
  • As close to your child’s home as possible so your child can be educated in the school he would attend if he was not disabled.[v]

Your child’s placement may not be based on:

  • Your child’s disability category or label or severity of the disability (i.e., children with autism are placed in a class with other children with autism)
  • The school’s service delivery model (i.e., all children with learning disabilities receive “pull out’ or resource services)
  • The availability of special education and related services, staff location, or school district convenience. [vi]

Continuum of Alternative Placements
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that schools provide a continuum of alternative placements for children with disabilities.[vii]

What is the “continuum of alternative placements?”
The continuum of alternative placements refers to places where children receive special education services. Placements are on a continuum, from least to most restrictive. Your child’s placement may be in:

  • A regular classes, with needed supplementary aids and services
  • A special class where all children in the class receive special education services for some or all of the day
  • A special school
  • Home
  • A hospital or other institution
  • Another setting

In making a placement decision, the team must look at the full continuum of placement options.[viii]   . . . .

[i]  Commentary in 71 FR at 46588
[ii]  20 U.S.C. § 1414(e); 34 C.F.R. § 300.327; also Guide to the IEP: Deciding Placements from the U.S. Department of Education. URL:
[iii]  34 C.F.R. § 300.116
[iv]  34 C.F.R. § 300.42; 34 C.F.R. § 300.114 – 300.116
[v]  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5); 34 C.F.R § 300.314 – 300.317
[vi]  Commentary in 71 FR at 46588
[vii]  20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.115
[viii]  34 C.F.R. § 300.115

  1. I have a question. I was looking in a DTA with a special needs adult and recently my job took my one-on-one away and said that he now had to work with other people. His parents were not informed of this change as they only wanted me as his one-on-one. Is this illegal?

  2. There seems to be an unwritten rule in my district that as soon as the IEP team decides a Private Day placement is the least restrictive environment, the student must be on home-based services until that Private Day placement is secured. This sometimes takes two months or more before the student can begin classes in their new school. While they are receiving home-based services and this is written into the IEP and agreed upon by the parent, I have real questions about this practice. Others believe that as a team we cannot agree that a student needs a private day placement but then continue to serve them in the school until the new placement is arranged.

    They say this would be contrary to what the team has just agreed upon. I argue that this must be an individual decision based on the student’s needs. While the team can agree that LRE is Private Day, if the student can best be served in the school setting in the interim, then that’s what should happen. I’m concerned that some students may be denied FAPE if placed on home-based services. Thoughts?

    • Ali, I agree this could be a denial of FAPE. Typically home based services are not comparable to what the child would receive a public or the private day program. Every state has a federally funded disability rights program. They may be of help to you or parents on this situation.

  3. A student currently has all services provided in the classroom.
    The student requires some additional pull-out services.
    The time outside of the classroom will not change the LRE which is IE13.
    The parent/team agree with the need for additional services outside of the general education classroom.
    Regarding the IEP, can this be managed with an amendment or does a new IEP need to be drafted?

  4. My district is eliminating several program classes (Self-contained units for students with mild intellectual disabilities in grades k-2, behavioral units in the middle school and high functioning autism units in the middle school). I am at a loss over what to do. My 6 year old cannot function in a co-taught setting with so many other children with so many needs. I am afraid he will be lost or even worse, hurt. They say they will still offer the continuum of services (however, they only offer small group services starting in 3rd grade as they say the child must be two years behind to qualify). My nephew with AU is thriving in his self-contained class but now is being thrown to the wolves. They are not increasing personnel for these changes. How is this even possible?

  5. My son is denied to go to FES due to a waitlist. We have previously agreed to go to SES, but I changed my mind. The Special Education Department say’s my son is to go to SES and will be in FES as soon as there is an opening. Can they do this, and this does not happen until this August. I have pleaded with them and still they will not reconsider. I have explained to them that putting my son to different schools will be hard on him, emotionally and physically as he have ASD and IDD among his disabilities. Should I find a lawyer. I am from colorado, please help if anyone has an idea.

    • Anna, I suggest you contact the PEAK Center. It is the federally funded CO Parent training, & information project.

  6. What is required to change a student from a functional life skills classroom (self contained) to a regular education setting with support?

  7. Can a 2nd grade special education student, go into a 1st grade class room?
    To explain a little more, student is having a hard time with afternoon transition and needs a change in environment. This will keep in a general education setting while continuing the lessons he would get in a 2nd grade classroom. Pending the ARD committee is in approval. The student has a re pore with me as I had him the previous year as his special education teacher.

    • IEPs are to address a child’s needs, & it appears the child is having trouble with afternoon transitions. (a need). You say he would continue 2nd grade lessons, & he would be with nondisabled peers. As a retired Texas special ed director, I would say yes, if this is agreed to by the ARD team, & mother.

  8. I teach post-secondary transition 18-22 year olds in CA. My class is labeled as a moderate/severe (now extensive supports)special day class. My district is allowing mild/moderate students who do not graduate with a diploma (certificate of completion tracked) to enroll in our mod/sev post secondary class once they complete the 12th grade. Would this be considered a change of placement? To be clear the mild/moderate students do attend a special day class for some part of their day BUT push into general education classes for most of their day. Their SDC teacher holds a mild moderate credential and I hold a moderate severely.

  9. Can a student not receive services over the year for up to 10 days and it not have to be made up? I was told we have 10 days and this is something new to me. I was also told to change a students placement for resource to full inclusion and we had 10 days for a trial period is that correct?

    • Betty, If I understand your question, you were told to change a child’s placement from resource to full inclusion for a trial period. When I hear that services are being reduced or changed, a red flag goes up. You don’t mention an IEP meeting or whether the parents were involved in making these decisions.

  10. If the TEAM in Connecticut- parent, administrator, general education teacher, special education teacher, social worker all agree that the placement of a child is not the correct setting with 10 hours of resource. Can the district refuse that decision and reverse the teams decision back to resource?

  11. There is an LEA assigned for my school. Students with an IEP are assigned Case Managers to complete their IEP. Does the LEA have the right to make changes to the IEP without informing the case manager of the changes?

  12. I have a preschool student that resides in our district and was found eligible for special education services. The student currently attends a preschool in the community and the parents do not want to take the student out of the community preschool to attend the district’s preschool, but would like to be provided with the special education services the student is eligible for. What is the district’s obligation to provide these services when the student will not be enrolling with the district?

    • Basically, the parents have declined special education services. The district is not responsible for providing services in the private sector. Sometimes, students come to the public school specifically for the service time and then spend the rest of the time in the community school.

  13. Question on last minute change of school placement with less than 20hours notice. Incoming 11th grade student in CA registered to return to their comprehensive highschool. Day before school starts parent contacted by highschool informing that student is being transferred to the local continuation school and needs to go register there. This was not discussed or agreed on at end of year IEP in June. Student failed a few classes during 1st semester of 10th grade related to absences/impairments of their disability. What rights does student/parent have in this situation? Seems like district has violated rights and not followed legal procedures here.

  14. Can the district decide to transfer a child to a different school solely based on his/her need for nursing services? Placement (special ed classroom) can be met at current neighborhood school, but child needs a nurse for tube-feeding. Instead of providing a nurse at his current school, parents were told that all students with any skilled nursing needs are transferred to a designated school in the complex (medically fragile school) as they always have a building nurse present on campus.

  15. Can a student have a change of placement without a ARD? Example from Regular Ed to resource. I was told you could change services for up to ten days to see if it is appropriate.

    • No. Trying something for a period of time is allowed, if the ARD committee decides this. IDEA rules allow amending parts of an IEP. But TX does not allow amendments for change of placement. I work for the TX parent training & information project, Partners Resource Network. You can find our staff person who works with your area on the website. or contact me at

  16. I am a teacher in an FLS class. I have a student that will be placed in an SLD classroom for “academic data collection”. I am the case manager and had no knowledge of this change. The parent agreed to the change of placement, but there was not an IEP meeting. Is this legal?

  17. A child is living in another state but enrolled in our online program. Can we as a team decide that the student enroll in the school where they are living?

    • I think that would depend on your state rules, & district policies. It is possible that the state would not allow funding for this student. Hope you can find the answer.

  18. Is placing a student in a 4th/5th grade mix from an all 5th grade class (both are self contained) considered a change in placement? No information from school is forthcoming.

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