Section 504 and IDEA contain two concepts that affect the planning and design of facilities used by students with disabilities. The first concept—appropriate education—requires that schools provide all students receiving special education services with an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP specifies the levels of performance, goals, and educational services to be provided and the extent to which students will participate in general education programs. Appropriate education has no statutory or regulatory definition and is, therefore, decided on a case-by-case basis. Court decisions and other rulings suggest a two-part analysis can be made to determine appropriateness: Were the procedural requirements set forth in IDEA met, and did the IEP benefit the student?
The second concept—least restrictive environment—requires students with disabilities to be placed where they can obtain the best education at the least distance from mainstream education programs. To the maximum extent possible, they must be educated with nondisabled students. Students with disabilities who are not initially placed in the public school district or in a general education public school should be integrated into the appropriate public school as soon as possible.
The following planning and designing principles should be considered when building or renovating school facilities.
Provide versatile classroom spaces. Classrooms that provide a variety of choices in the physical environment are preferable for all educational programs but are indispensable for meeting the wide range of educational requirements for students with disabilities and for helping them become successful learners.
For example, students with attention deficit disorders and emotional disabilities often require greater physical and acoustical separation between activities to reduce distractions, making single-space classrooms inadequate for