10 Settings to Consider in an IEP Meeting

Selecting the Right Education Placement for a Special Education Student


Special education is a service, not a location. When we write IEPs, it’s important we consider all possible settings for our students. We must have extremely good reasons to restrict access to anything other than what general education students have. Here is a list to get you thinking about the settings you and the IEP team should consider when deciding placement for your special education students. Remember, with all students, we must select their least restrictive environment whether that is inclusion, self-contained, or something else.

Why Special Education Placement Matters 

The general education setting is general education classrooms. Educators must take the decision to take a student out of a general education classroom very seriously. Students need access to the general education setting not just for access to the curriculum but for access to general education peers without disabilities.

Special education students need to see peer behavior modeled so they can replicate the behavior. Even students who do not have “behavior problems” need this access. Why? Students need to be able to socialize with their own peers. If students model adult behaviors instead of the behaviors of their peers, their peers might find them a bit odd and not want to socialize with them.

Special education settings often have behaviors. I have seen students with disabilities pick up less than desirable behaviors from one another, behaviors they would not have witnessed if they were in the general education setting.

It’s very important we be cognizant of the range of impacts on behavior removing a student from the general education curriculum entails. There can be a time and place for recommended a non-general education placement, absolutely, but there must be evidence that the general education environment is not the least restrictive environment. 


General Education

The general education setting is the classrooms students without disabilities take part in as part of their normal schedule. These classes are taught by general education teachers. Many special education students can be well supported in the general education classroom with modifications and accommodations provided by a special education teacher or paraprofessional that “pushes in” to support the student.


In the co-teaching model, both general ed and special education students are in one classroom with two teachers: a general education teacher and a special education teacher. In a good co-teaching classroom, there should be more general education students than special education students. In the co-teaching model, teachers collaborate and work very closely together. Even the special education teacher works with general education students. It should not be clear to the students who has an IEP and who does not in a co-teaching classroom.


A resource room has students who come and go into the general education setting as well as the special education classroom. This setting is going out of style. Older students, particularly ones third grade and older can find it embarrassing to be pulled out of class to go to the resource room. Sometimes this model is called pull out. Students still can benefit from the smaller class size and reduced distractions that the resource room provides. However, with more modern teaching methods like Daily 5, students should be working in smaller groups with differentiated instruction provided. (The book mentioned is an affiliate link.)


I have experience teaching in self-contained life skills classrooms. While students in this setting have a stolen my heart, very few students should be considered for placement in self-contained classes. The students who are in self-contained classrooms should need to be there. For my life skills students, they were not well served by being in the general education classroom.  Because of the nature of their disabilities, their time was better spent learning social skills and life skills, combined with academics at their level.

Self-Contained students generally have Intellectual Disability (ID) and not Specific Learning Disabilities (SLDs). Some self-contained students have that placement due to behaviors.

1:1 Support

One on one support is not location based. A student could have a one-on-one para in a general education classroom, a co-taught class, or a self-contained class. With a one-on-one, the student is to receive a high level of support. It is usually rare for students to qualify for a one on one. It is restrictive to have someone with and watching you all day long after all.

Separate School

When I was in elementary school, my class made a very special field trip to deliver Valentine’s Day Cards. We visited the Jo Kelly School in Fort Worth. The Jo Kelly School educates students who have severe disabilities and are often medically fragile. The visit made a lasting impression and is part of the reason I choose to go into special education. If I still lived in Fort Worth, I would apply to work there in a heart-beat.

Students qualify for separate schools like this only in rare, rare instances.  A school decides on this as a placement because they do not have the ability to provide for all the complex needs a student might have. While the Jo Kelly School is a public school, sometimes school districts do not have the resources to have a separate school that meets a student need. In those cases, they sometimes work with other districts or private schools in order to meet the student’s needs. The home school district is responsible for paying for services.

Home Bound

Some students are not able to leave home to access their education. However, the school is still required to educate. Home bound students receive education at their homes. Often students who receive home bound services are not able to be out of their bed and are medically fragile. Other times, students who have experienced an extreme injury might be on a home bound plan while they heal.

That’s why individualization is so important. The law understands that children need to have a specialized plan made for them. There is no one-size fits all approach.

Specials / Electives

Even my self-contained students were included for specials, including PE, art, and music. Most of my bunch needed paras to go with them for support. Even if you have students in a self-contained classroom, think about where they CAN be included.

Shared Spaces


It breaks my heart when I hear about students not being allowed to eat with their same-age peers. All students, even self-contained ones, should be allowed every opportunity to be with peers at lunch time. Even if it takes extra para support or makes the schedule crazy (my schedule was NUTS!), it’s worth it for the kids.


Ditto the above point for recess. Special education students should be allowed to have recess with their general education, same-age peers. Students with disabilities are, above all, children. They need time to play. Need, not want. Not only do our students need time to play with other children, their non-disabled peers need to have the opportunity to interact with students with disabilities. All children are part of their community and for everybody to truly belong in their community as adults, they must not be separated as children.


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