By law, students with disabilities are supposed to be included in general education to the greatest extent possible. Now, federal officials say the same tenet of inclusion should apply to transition as well.

Informal guidance issued recently from the U.S. Department of Education indicates that the requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, that students be placed in the “least restrictive environment” extends beyond the confines of the classroom.

Specifically, the concept should apply to work placements if such experiences are part of a student’s individualized education program, or IEP, officials at the Education Department said.

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“Placement decisions, including those related to transition services (including work placements), must be based on these (least restrictive environment) principles and made by the IEP team,” wrote Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the Department of Education. “The IDEA does not prohibit segregated employment, but the (least restrictive environment) provisions would apply equally to the employment portion of the student’s program and placement.”

The guidance from Musgrove comes in response to a series of questions from officials at Disability Rights Wisconsin, a federally-mandated legal advocacy service, regarding the responsibilities school districts have in administering transition plans for students with disabilities. News of Musgrove’s letter was first reported by Education Week.

Much like traditional requirements for least restrictive environment in the classroom, Musgrove said that schools must offer supports at job placements if such assistance will allow a student to be successful in an integrated environment.

“Removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily,” she wrote.