What Does Least Restrictive Environment Really Mean?
Hello everyone! I took some much needed “Me time.” However, I am off work for the summer. I am finally able to finish my article on Least Restrictive Environment. I learned a lot by listening to these two amazing women: Jennifer Laviano, an Attorney and Julie Swanson a Special Ed Advocate.
Here is a summary of their discussion on Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
The history of these Special Education laws was to ensure these children have access to public schools and become part of the “fabric of the community” and not in a separate room or school. What LRE has become is a sword for school districts who don’t want to spend money on more restrictive placements provide the appropriate education for a child
The LRE definition is greatly misunderstood by parents and school districts. There is both Statutory Language and Regulatory Language. The Statutory Language and Regulatory language have similarities. You are able to research the laws under IDEA 20 US code 1400@ sec. The Least Restrictive Environment language is listed 1412.
The Statutory Language states that students with a disability are educated with students who are not disabled. The Regulatory Language states that each public agency must ensure, to maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities are educated with students who are not disabled, unless the disability is very severe.
Basically, students should not be removed from the mainstream environment “to the maximum extent appropriate” unless the nature of the disability is so severe that education is not able to occur in mainstream. The intent is to allow the student to be apart of the learning community and not being separated out due to the disability. This is for public as well as private institutions.
Students with disabilities are entitled to a “Free and Appropriate Education” or FAPE. If the student is successful with the accommodations, then this is the right environment for that child. When the child is not successful, then the IEP team needs to discuss other options. The LRE analysis should happen last after the discussion of what the appropriate program is for that child should be. Then the team needs to make sure the program is appropriate program. If the student can be kept in public school regular education class with supplemental aides and services with support and it is working, then that is the least restrictive environment. When this is not working, then it is important for the team to go down the LRE appropriate environment.
However, most district are skipping the part where the district needs to add support in the form of a shadow, testing accommodations, etc.…and the school district feels due to monetary reasons it is easier to place the child in a special education, self-contained classroom. The schools stop looking at what the child needs. The school districts need to think out side the box and become more creative when looking at the best least restrictive environment. So, the schools basically wants to place children in a self-contained classroom without looking at the supplemental support that could be provided for that student in order for him/her to stay in the mainstream environment.
According to Jenn and Julie, the State and Local agencies are required by IDEA to maintain a continuum of appropriate alternative placements.
Parents need to remember schools districts must provide FAPE under the (Individual with Disabilities Education Act) IDEA are required to provide an appropriate education.
Here are the ranges of the continuum. Think of it like a gas tank from Empty to Full.
1) The student is in a full inclusion, which is the regular education. This is at the top of the continuum
2) The student receives Special Ed service as push-in as a service. This means that an aide or teacher comes into class to provide services to the student.
3) The student must leave the class and be pulled out in order to provide instruction in another room.
4) The student spends more of his/her time in a different classroom than a regular education setting.
5) The student is being pulled out of regular education classroom and placed in room with students with disabilities.
6) The child is placed in an “out of district program.” This is a day program, private education school that is approved by the state.
7) At the opposite end of this continuum is either a residential or hospital setting. The student is there for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Think of Least Restrictive to more restrictive like a gas tank. Least being Empty, Most being full. It is a “continuum” the analysis must be placed on the individual needs of the child. Special education teacher can be push-in to provide related services or the students can be pulled out to provide services more restrictive. It should be based on what the student needs not what the local district is able to provide.
It is important to remember that more restrictive doesn’t mean more restrictive for your child, it might be the correct placement. The obligation of LRE should always be based on the child’s needs.