Providing special education students in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) has been a tenet contained in Federal law since 1975. In considering the appropriate setting for achieving LRE, the starting point is placing the student in a setting alongside their age-appropriate peers without disabilities at the school they should attend based on residence or other district attendance policy. From this starting point, more restrictive settings may be considered if the student cannot be properly educated, and there may be times when the appropriate placement and the need for a continuum of placements requires a non-integrated setting. A local educational agency (LEA) must also ensure that a continuum of alternative placement is available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services (34 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 300.115). In cases where a non-integrated setting is the appropriate placement option, the following process is to be used in requesting the approval from the California Department of Education (CDE) for non-integrated special education facility projects pursuant to California Education Code (EC) Section 17070.80 and California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 5, Section 14036.
For purposes of this policy, a non-integrated setting is defined as any of the following:
- A new school offering only special education services.
- A new school offering special education and alternative programs where such programs do not provide what is considered an appropriate peer group for the special education enrollment.
- The construction of more than two adjacent special education classrooms on a new or existing campus (CCR, Title 5, Section 14030[h][G]).
Procedure for Requesting Approval of a non-integrated facility:
- The School Facilities Planning Division (SFPD) field representative shall be notified by the LEA early in the planning stages that the proposed project is a non-integrated facility. LEA's are encouraged to contact the SFPD prior to any School Facility Program funds being expended on design work or site acquisition.
- The LEA proposing the project shall submit to the SFPD a board-adopted educational specification as well as written responses to the following:
- Identify the special needs of the proposed and future enrollment and elaborate on why they cannot be met in an integrated setting.
- Discuss how the project is consistent with the LEA's facility master plan including the capacity of existing and future comprehensive schools and the continuum of placements.
- Discuss how the least restrictive environment is to be provided (34 CFR, Section 300.114).
- Discuss how age appropriate interaction is to be provided (EC Section 17070.70[a]).
- If the project includes building capacity for students currently housed elsewhere, identify where the students proposed for the facility are currently housed.
- Discuss the transition plan to incorporate the students proposed to be housed in the project into an integrated setting (EC Section 17070.80[b])
Additional information may be requested based on the unique characteristics of the project.
- The SFPD will transmit the information to the CDE Special Education Division (SED). Follow-up discussions between CDE and the LEA may occur to clarify LEA responses and/or to request additional information.
- The SED administrator will prepare a written response to the SFPD within three weeks to concur with the project, recommend denial, request additional information, or request that the applicant clarify previously submitted information.
- The SFPD will notify the LEA in writing of CDE's opinion of the appropriateness of the non-integrated setting and/or the need for new or clarified information.
- A LEA that receives an opinion from CDE that does not support the project may file a written request for a waiver from the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This request shall be sent to the SFPD field representative. This request must document the necessity of a non-integrated setting (EC Section 17070.80[d]).
- Within 30 days of the receipt of the waiver request, the CDE will prepare a report for consideration by the Special Education Advisory Commission at the next regularly scheduled meeting.
- The CDE shall transmit the recommendation of the Special Education Advisory Commission to both the LEA and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
- The CDE shall transmit the subsequent finding of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to the LEA.