Changing Placement: Helpful Legal References


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

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10/19/2020 10:47 am

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?

10/19/2020 1:13 pm
Reply to  Corky

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.

09/21/2020 6:33 pm

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.