A historical/legal analysis and case study of a high school art classroom as a least restrictive environment for students experiencing disabilities
Kraft, Leah Michelle
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This study combines the qualitative methodologies of historical/legal analysis and case study design to compare the intent of the least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to its actual practice in a high school art class. The investigation examines the art classroom as a LRE with regard to such stakeholders as: (a) the learners experiencing disabilities, (b) the art teacher, and (c) the art classroom as a whole (including students with "typical" abilities). A theoretical framework including the values of equality, liberty, and efficiency guided data collection, analysis, and interpretation of the relationships and/or disparities that exist between the legal statute's intent and its actual practice. The study demonstrates that the federal regulations, the State Plan, and the local school district operating guidelines adhere to the purposes and the letter of the LRE mandate of IDEA as it travels through its various structural levels of implementation. The case study findings, though, evidence some barriers to a truly integrative model of inclusion at the classroom level, one that provides for active participation and maximizes the student's involvement in his/her education. These barriers included the class's exercise of an inclusion-defined-as-proximity paradigm (especially regarding the student experiencing severe disabilities), along with minimal provision for collaboration between the special and art educators in developing successful inclusion strategies. The presence of these barriers precluded, at times, the active participation and involvement of all stakeholders in the art classroom community, thereby affecting the exercise of the values of equality, liberty, and efficiency in the implementation of the LRE mandate. The study offers eight recommendations for providing a FAPE in the art classroom as a LRE, one that is aligned with the purposes and intent of IDEA. Among these are increased communication and collaboration between stakeholders, including special and art educators, parents, and instructional aides; fostering of interaction among peers; provision of student empowerment through choice-making; and increased pre-service education opportunities to work with individuals experiencing severe disabilities.