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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Leadership and Policy

First Advisor

Ben M. Pogodnizki


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, better known as Public Law 94-142, ratified in 1975 and later amended and retitled as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990 and reauthorized again in 2004, articulated the civil rights of students with disabilities (SWDs) to be placed and educated with non-disabled peers in their neighboring community schools. The overarching principle of IDEA required all public schools to ensure SWDs received a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) with their non-disabled peers by highly qualified staff. However, there has been continuous debate and struggle over how to define, determine, and implement the LRE mandate by many community districts. The United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education (US-OSE) necessitates States to publicly report on the percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in various instructional settings. In the state of Michigan, this data is captured through its Indicator #5, Educational Environment (LRE), of the State Performance Plan.

The intent behind Indicator #5 is to monitor the percent of school-age children with disabilities, ranging from ages 6 to 21 in three categories. Category one represents students placed inside the general education classroom, 80 percent or more of the day. Category two is defined by the number of students inside the general education classroom, less than 40 percent of the day. Finally, the third category represents those students educated in separate special education and residential facilities, or homebound/hospital placements (MDE-OSE SPP, 2018). Based on Michigan Student Data System (MSDS), the state is aligned to national statistics concerning the percentage of SWDs who are served in general education instructional settings, ranking 35th overall in the 2017-2018 school year (US-OSE, 2019). The purpose of this study was to explore how a district's general and special education administrators and teachers made sense of IDEA's requirements for LRE, as well as discover from their perspectives which factors influenced LRE placements and the implementation of services in the LRE.

This research utilized the qualitative methodology of a multi-site case-study. Qualitative data was collected through eight semi-structured interviews of special and general education administrators. Also, online survey data was collected from 14 general and special education teachers. The data was coded and analyzed thematically. Results of the qualitative data revealed that special and general education administrators have similar perspectives on LRE, which were based on professional and personal experiences. District and building leadership and instructional staff suggested that IDEA obligation, organizational beliefs and structure, and student academic needs were believed to be the factors that most influenced the percentage of SWDs in general education settings with push-in special education services. It is also important to note that MDE’s compliance target rate for SPP Indicator #5 was only relevant to LRE determinations by a marginal degree, as described by special education directors.

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