“Natural Environment” Under Part C Includes Preschool and Daycare Settings

Part C of the IDEA provides early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Under Part C infants and toddlers are children from birth through age two. Similar to the IDEA Part B requirement that students with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, Part C requires that infants and toddlers receive services in the natural environment. Natural environment means providing services in the home and community settings in which children without disabilities participate. But, does that mean early intervention services cannot be provided in a preschool or day care setting? 

In a case decided last June, Andrew M. v. Delaware County Office of Mental Health, 490 F. 3d 337 (3rd Cir. 2007), the court said that natural environment is not limited to homes, child care centers and community settings, but can include a preschool setting. In this case, the Delaware County Office of Mental Health, the agency responsible for providing early intervention services, tried to limit the term natural environment to only the child’s home and did not allow the child to be served in a preschool setting. Serving the child in the home required that a parent or other caregiver be present and meant the child would be served isolated from other children. The court rejected that narrow view.

This makes perfect sense. Today, there are many families in which both parents work and are not available for their child to receive services in the home. Including preschool and day care settings as natural environments allows greater flexibility for families and will likely facilitate serving children in settings with other children.

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