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  • Writer's pictureGina Wurfel

What is the "Least Restrictive Environment"? The answer might surprise you.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is a contested topics among parents and schools in special education. Can a student's individual LRE change as their needs change?

The simple answer to this is, no. The least restrictive environment is defined in IDEA (the law governing special education) as the general education classroom. Always. The goal for all students receiving special education services is to be educated "to the maximum extent possible" with their non disabled peers. By this logic, being in a self contained classroom is not meeting LRE. LRE actually is on a continuum. The graphic below illustrates LRE

Students can move up and down the continuum as their needs change. But a self contained classroom is not "least" restrictive, even if a student needs that level of environment.

What really changes when a student needs more or less intensity, is their version of FAPE (free and appropriate public education). In particular, the "A", as in, appropriate, can change fluidly and even rapidly.

A student's version of a FAPE might be pull out or push in services in a general ed classroom, or it might be a resource room, or it might be a self contained class. But the goal is always to get them educated with non disabled peers as much as possible. Every student with disabilities should spend at least some of the school day in class or activities with non disabled peers. School districts actually measure this as a metric to the US Department of Education. Therefore, in order to be compliant with IDEA, schools need to meet LRE as much as possible, and try to move disabled students down the continuum via supplementary aids and services, related services, etc.



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