In Porter v. Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld an Illinois State Board of Education special education hearing officer’s decision that a therapeutic day school was not a student’s least restrictive environment, because the student could “receive a satisfactory education” at a [d]istrict school while also having “contact with her typically developing peers during the school day.” The decision is an important reminder of some factors that a court may consider when determining whether a school district has adhered to the requirement to educate students in the least restrictive environment.

In Porter, a parent filed a due process challenge to her daughter’s individualized education program (IEP). The parent sought to have the student placed at a separate school offering multisensory instruction for students with learning disabilities. The district modified the IEP, addressing some of the parent’s concerns, but ultimately concluded that the alternative placement was not justified. The district determined that the student would be best served by attending regular classes at the public school, spending only 25% of her school day in a separate classroom.

In finding that a therapeutic day school was not the student’s least restrictive environment, the hearing officer relied on a recent decision from the Northern District of Illinois, James D. v. Board of Education of Aptakisic-Tripp Community Consolidated School District No. 102, which held that a private therapeutic day school was not an appropriate placement where a student could receive a satisfactory education in a public school placement while spending 70% of his day in a separate classroom. The hearing officer also relied on the fact that the district had offered to provide the same programming that the parent was seeking in the public school and that the parent’s witness testified to the student’s ability to complete specialized programming at the public school in a year, which would bring her up to speed. On appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the hearing officer’s decision that the district could offer the student a satisfactory education without placing the student at a therapeutic day school, especially in light of the district’s offer to administer multi-sensory instruction and other programming at the public school.