In a recently issued Dear Colleague letter, OSEP reminds districts that IDEA’s least restrictive environment (“LRE”) requirement applies to all children with disabilities ages three through twenty-one, including preschool students with disabilities. IDEA’s statutory provisions regarding LRE do not distinguish between school-age children and preschool-aged children. Thus, a continuum of alternative placements must be available to meet the special education and related service needs of preschool children with disabilities. In determining the educational placement of preschool children with disabilities, districts must ensure that the placement decision is made by the child’s IEP team, is based on the child’s IEP, and is as close as possible to the child’s home. 
 
A continuum of placement options for preschool age children with disabilities should include instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions. Districts that do not have regular education programs for preschool age children are not required to create those programs solely to satisfy IDEA’s LRE requirement. However, those districts that must explore alternative methods to ensure that the LRE requirements are met and that they can provide all of the appropriate services and supports for a particular child with disability. These alternative methods may include:
 
1.      Providing opportunities for the child to participate in preschool programs operated by other public agencies, such as Head Start or community-based child care;
2.      Enrolling preschool children with disabilities in private preschool programs for nondisabled preschool children;
3.      Locating classes for preschool children with disabilities in regular elementary schools; or
4.      Providing home-based services. 
 
You may access the Dear Colleague letter issued by OSEP in the “Guidance Documents” section of this website.
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