Determining the Most Appropriate Physical Education Placement for Students with Disabilities: By Following a Systematic, Eight-Step Process, Teachers and Other Stakeholders Can Achieve Proper Placements

By Columna, Luis; Davis, Timothy et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Determining the Most Appropriate Physical Education Placement for Students with Disabilities: By Following a Systematic, Eight-Step Process, Teachers and Other Stakeholders Can Achieve Proper Placements


Columna, Luis, Davis, Timothy, Lieberman, Lauren, Lytle, Rebecca, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Adapted physical education (APE) is physical education designed to meet the unique needs of the child in the least restrictive environment (LRE). It is important to remember that APE is the service to the child, it is not the placement (Lieberman & Houston-Wilson, 2009). This service can take place in a segregated class, an inclusive class, a combination of both, or in the community. Placement decisions are a major issue within the field of APE. Placement in the right environment can help the child succeed, but the wrong environment can create a very negative experience.

The purpose of this article is to describe the placement process for physical education services, and appropriate placement alternatives within the LRE, for a child with a disability. This article will present a systematic approach to making decisions when determining appropriate APE placements for students with disabilities and should enable teachers to understand better their own district policies regarding such placements.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA) requires that children with disabilities receive an appropriate public education, at no cost to parents, within the LRE that best applies for a particular student. The LRE (as originally outlined in the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, 1975) is deemed the environment where the child's learning is best supported. These special education mandates are well established and understood in the public schools, yet APE placement and services are often determined, illegally and unethically, by teacher availability, the schedule, or teacher preferences rather than the educational needs of the student (Block, 2007).

Comprehensive assessment data that enables the teacher to determine a student's present level of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP) should serve as the basis for decisions about physical education placement and APE services (Lieberman & Houston-Wilson, 2009). These data should help the individualized education program (IEP) team determine the LRE placement for children with disabilities. Not all children with disabilities will qualify or receive APE services or should be placed in a segregated physical education class. The IEP team, often called the Committee on Special Education, should determine the amount of APE service and the placement where these Services will be delivered (table 1). According to IDEIA (2004), this team is composed of parents, a regular education teacher, special education teachers, a qualified representative of the local educational agency, an individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, any individual who has knowledge or special expertise regarding the child (e.g., related services personnel), the general physical education teacher, and when appropriate, the child with a disability.

Table 1. Physical Education Placement Options

* GPE with no support or modifications

* GPE with modifications

* APE consult to GPE

* APE consult to GPE, combined with segregated placement

* Segregated physical education 1, 2, 3 times per week/month combined with GPE services. Total PE time must meet state requirements.

* Reverse mainstreaming--GPE students go to segregated class to assist.

* Segregated APE in school

* Segregated APE out of school

Modified from Auxter, Pyfer, Zittel, & Roth (2009); Block (2007); Dunn & Leitschuh (2006); Lieberman & Houston-Wilson (2009); and Winnick (2005).

Even though APE textbooks describe a full range of APE placement options (Auxter, Pyfer, Zittel, & Roth, 2009; Block, 2007; Dunn, & Leitschuh, 2006; Lieberman & Houston-Wilson, 2009; Winnick, 2005), many students with disabilities continue to receive inappropriate services and are often placed in inappropriate environments (Block, 2007). …

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