What is LRE Least Restrictive Environment?

Students must be educated in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible, and cannot use budget issues as an excuse not to do it.

From Ed.Gov/IDEA

Have you heard of LRE or the Least Restrictive Environment continuum? Many parents are unaware of this right or principle of special education. I often say that most parents come to me with nothing more than a gut feeling that something isn’t right. LRE is definitely one of those things.

Least Restrictive Environment is essential to our kids’ well being. We have seen the abuse and destruction it does to the disability community when our kids are automatically warehoused based upon their disability. So what does it mean for you and your child?

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What is Least Restrictive Environment?

LRE is a concept that was born out of a Supreme Court case on Special Education. First, let’s take a look at the actual wording in IDEA:

Least Restrictive Environment Definition

Statute/Regs Main Â» Regulations Â» Part B Â» Subpart B Â» Section 300.114

300.114 LRE requirements.(a) General.

(1) Except as provided in §300.324(d)(2) (regarding children with disabilities in adult prisons), the State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the State meet the LRE requirements of this section and §§300.115 through 300.120.

(2) Each public agency must ensure that—

(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and

(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

(b) Additional requirement—State funding mechanism—

(1) General.

(i) A State funding mechanism must not result in placements that violate the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section; and

(ii) A State must not use a funding mechanism by which the State distributes funds on the basis of the type of setting in which a child is served that will result in the failure to provide a child with a disability FAPE according to the unique needs of the child, as described in the child’s IEP.

(2) Assurance. If the State does not have policies and procedures to ensure compliance with paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the State must provide the Secretary an assurance that the State will revise the funding mechanism as soon as feasible to ensure that the mechanism does not result in placements that violate that paragraph.

OSEP Q and A on Least Restrictive Environment

IDEA has been reauthorized twice since this memo came out. However, the information remains the same.

LRE Meaning-Special Education

Well, that sounds pretty self-explanatory to me.

Of course in day to day practice, this doesn’t always happen. We have intellectually normal kids tossed into “life skills” all the time.

Probably one of the most common scenarios I see is the school pushing for a self-contained classroom or ‘special school’ in lieu of a 1:1 aide.

That can go the other way too. A 1:1 aide can be a very restrictive environment, particularly for a child struggling with social skills and making friends. It’s not very “cool” to have a grown adult hanging around you all day.

In working with your child, weigh all the options. Sometimes a special school with smaller class size and smaller environment, where they can navigate on their own without a 1:1 is less restrictive than having a 1:1 in the regular school setting.

Least Restrictive Environment Continuum

LRE continuum pyramid levels

LRE placements include all types of program choices. IEP Placement options include services such as resource pull-out programs, before or after school tutoring, home instruction, special schools, general classroom with or without an aid, etc. Schools must provide a full “continuum of alternative placements”.

In other words, the school can offer any placement, if it is what the child needs. Your child’s school can’t say, “This is what we always do, so it’s the only option.”

The key is to always provide what your child needs. IDEA is all about what your child needs.

Just to re-emphasize what LRE is based on: Schools can’t limit LRE Placement to what the school has available or what the school administrators are willing to provide. Neither can parents dictate the LRE all by themselves. The LRE is solely based on your child’s individual needs.

Your child has a right to FAPE. Your child deserves an opportunity to meet academic standards that include progress in the general curriculum. If able to learn, your child is must receive the same educational opportunities typical students receive.

There are varying degrees of restrictiveness. Least restrictive is the general education setting in your neighborhood school. Then there is pull out, self-contained classrooms, special schools, a 1:1 aide, homebound and hospital settings.

Some federal districts have also ruled that LRE applies to ALL programming, including ESY. However, districts cannot require non-disabled children to attend ESY so that a disabled child has non-disabled peers there. This may help a parent in the event that they are looking for a different summer ESY program than what the district is offering.

What is the Least Restrictive Environment?

When considering IEP placement and services, parents need to assess it from all sides. Listen to your gut. Do what you feel is best. There is a lot of noise out there lately, particularly a camp of people who feel that inclusion should be the only option for everyone. Your child’s placement should be written into the IEP as a statement of the location for instruction, duration of teaching, and the specific setting.

placement continuum

Near the end of your IEP, you will find a chart that lists your child’s percentages. Schools are required to report this information to the state. The percentages will tell you how much time your child spends in general education and how much time they spend with only disabled peers. This information is used to determine how restrictive your child’s placement is.

If you have any questions, contact an advocate or a special education attorney.

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