A DIVERSITY OF RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENTS: PLACEMENT AS A PROBLEM OF SOCIAL ECOLOGY*
James M. Kauffman Daniel P. Hallahan University of Virginia
The overriding policy issue in special education in the 1990s has been the assignment of students to a place of schooling. Many special education reformers have centered attention on the least restrictive environment (LRE) provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), suggesting that the inclusion of all students with disabilities in general education classes in their neighborhood schools-and only such inclusion-will fulfill the letter and spirit of the law (e.g., Gartner & Lipsky, 1989; Laski, 1991; Lipsky & Gartner, 1991; Stainback & Stainback, 1991). Policyrnakers' enthusiasm for inclusion rhetoric and the assumption that the general education classroom in the neighborhood school is, in fact, least restrictive for all students has resulted in rapid erosion of placement options for students with disabilities, especially those identified in the categories of learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, and mild mental retardation. Many communities have seen the not-so-gradual disappearance of special self-contained classes, and in some schools pull-out programs of any kind have virtually disappeared.
The rapid policy shift from commitment to a full continuum of placement options, which in fact is mandated by IDEA, toward a severe limitation of options has occurred in the absence of adequate consideration of the logical or empirical bases for grouping students for schooling. Our purpose is to____________________