Choosing the Right Special Education Placement

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There are a lot of strong opinions out there about proper placement for students with disabilities. Some parents feel that every student belongs to the regular education mainstream; others hold on tight to out-of-district arrangements that they feel have transformed their child. Each of these four types of special-education classrooms has its supporters and critics, but all that matters is what makes the most sense for your child.​

Inclusion Class

In an inclusion class or mainstream placement, your child will be in a regular education class with his age peers. In addition to the regular teacher, there will ideally be a special-education teacher whose job it is to adjust the curriculum to your child's abilities.

Inclusion placements have the benefit of keeping children in the mainstream of school life with higher-achieving peers, but may not be able to provide the intensive help some students need.

Resource Room

Students who need intensive help to keep up with grade-level work in a particular subject may be placed in the resource room, where a special-education teacher works with a small group of students, using techniques that work more efficiently with a special-needs population.

Resource room placements provide help where needed while letting the student generally remain with the mainstream, but they lack the structure and routine of a self-contained classroom.

Self-Contained Class

Placement in a self-contained classroom means that your child will be removed from the general school population for all academic subjects to work in a small controlled setting with a special-education teacher. Students in a self-contained class may be working at all different educational levels, with different textbooks and various curricula.

Self-contained classes offer structure, routine, and appropriate expectations, but some students may require a higher level of specialization.

Out-of-District Placement

While a self-contained class may require your child to go to a school outside your neighborhood, an out-of-district placement places her in a specialized school specifically designed to address special learning or behavioral needs.

These schools offer the highest degree of structure, routine, and consistency throughout the school day. However, they remove any possibility of interacting with regular education students, which is extremely costly for school districts.

Which Class Is Right for Your Child?

That's a question that needs to be answered based on your child's particular, individualized needs. Ask yourself what kind of setting your child learns best, and what kind of setting is the least productive. Think about whether he has friends he wants to keep in touch within the mainstream, or whether the mainstream has been dangerous and unfriendly. Think about whether he needs structure and routine, or enjoys being with different teachers and kids. Think about whether there are one or two areas in which she needs academic help, or if every moment in school is a struggle.

Speak to your child's teachers, other parents, special education personnel, advocates in your area, and most importantly, to your child and try to gauge what setting would be the most productive, most beneficial, most stimulating, and least threatening place for your child to learn. Then monitor the situation closely. Your child's placement is not set in stone, and you can always move your child if an arrangement becomes too hard or too easy.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Penner MR. Building an Inclusive ClassroomJ Undergrad Neurosci Educ. 2018;16(3):A268‐A272.

  2. Krishnakumar P, Jisha AM, Sukumaran SK, Nair MK. Developing a model for resource room training for slow learners in normal schoolsIndian J Psychiatry. 2011;53(4):336‐339. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.91908

  3. Public School Review. Understanding Self-Contained Classrooms in Public Schools.

By Terri Mauro
Terri Mauro is the author of "50 Ways to Support Your Child's Special Education" and contributor to the Parenting Roundabout podcast.