Least Restrictive Environment
Education for all students with disabilities is determined by assessing their unique needs on an individual basis and meeting those needs in the least restrictive environment.
The IDEA mandates that a child must be given a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means a child with disabilities should be educated with children who are non-disabled as much as possible. A child should not be taken out of the regular education classroom unless the disability is so severe that, even with services and supports, he or she cannot learn in the regular classroom.
Although there are no general formulas on deciding what a child’s LRE would be, federal courts have defined several factors to be used as general guidelines to consider when making placement decisions. The first is to compare the benefits a child with disabilities will receive in the regular classroom, with supports and services, and the benefits he will receive in a more restrictive setting. The IEP team should also consider the non-academic benefits of interaction with children who do not have disabilities such as socialization and modeling appropriate behaviors.
Not only is the child with the disability to be considered in the placement decision, the effect of the child with a disability’s presence on the teacher and the other children in the classroom as well as the cost of mainstreaming must also be factored in.
Even if a child with a disability cannot be placed in the regular classroom full time – the school must make sure that he or she is mainstreamed as much as possible. This includes extracurricular activities such as field trips, school assemblies, lunchtimes, and physical education.
As with all elements of a child’s education, the IEP team makes the decision to place a child. This decision must be made giving great weight to a child’s LRE. Each decision should be made on an individual basis and takes into consideration the unique needs of the child.
Special education law is complex; you may have many more questions that have not been addressed here. Feel free to contact us to discuss your child’s particular situation.