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Special Education Placement Trends: Least Restrictive Environment Across Five Years in California


The least restrictive environment (LRE) is the legal right for students with disabilities to be included and educated with their non-disabled peers. However, at a fundamental level, LRE can be misinterpreted and measured inconsistently, creating a contentious environment for some schools and families of students with special needs. In the current study, using descriptive content analysis, special education due process hearings in the State of California over a five-year period available through the Office of Administrative Hearings were examined in order to identify characteristics of the students involved in LRE litigation and trends of LRE cases across the years. Results revealed that students involved in LRE-related hearings were mostly male, English-speaking, and classified as having a special education eligibility category of autism. An increase in general education placement was shown, and a decrease in home-hospital instruction. Future directions and implications for the implementation of LRE for school psychologists and special education teams are discussed.

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Correspondence to Yasamine Bolourian or Leigh Ann Tipton-Fisler.

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Appendix A

Appendix A

This study utilized due process hearing data from the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) of the State of California. This appendix offers instructions on how to access the archival data. All instructions are outlined based on the procedures followed at the time of data analysis. It should be noted that the steps may change if the website design is modified by the State of California.

In order to access this data, the researchers visited the OAH website. Next, on the OAH home page, the “Special Education Division Main Page” tab was selected, followed by the “Search Decisions/Orders” option. Below the search box options on this page is an option “to view all decisions issued since July 1, 2005.” Once on this page, the researchers opened each report and identified hearings that took place within the fiscal year range of 2011 to 2015. Each relevant document was then perused to locate and code variables of interest (see Methods). Codes were recorded using SPSS version 24.0 (IBM Corp. Released 2016).

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Search decisions/orders:

All decisions issued since July 1, 2005:

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Bolourian, Y., Tipton-Fisler, L.A. & Yassine, J. Special Education Placement Trends: Least Restrictive Environment Across Five Years in California. Contemp School Psychol 24, 164–173 (2020).

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  • LRE
  • Placement
  • Autism
  • Trends