What is Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in Special Education?
Federal law requires that, "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 not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily." 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5)(A).
This requirement is frequently referred to as the least restrictive environment (LRE). LRE isn't a place; rather, it's a guiding principle that mandates that children with Individualized Education Programs (IEP) must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible. When a child's IEP team meets, you can rest assured the topic of an “LRE” for the child's education will come up. LRE is one of several components in the development of a special education student's IEP.
The level of LRE a disabled child receives is unique to their individual needs and disability. Depending on the severity of a child's disability, special classes or separate schools may be required to provide the services the child needs to receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Mainstreaming & Inclusion
LRE plays a major role in where children will spend their time at school, how they receive any special services, and ultimately how the child develops relationships at school. Before the enactment of the IDEA, children with disabilities were segregated from mainstream typical classroom environments.
Do you know the difference between mainstreaming and inclusion? Most of us think they mean the same thing, but it's important to understand the difference when it comes to special education.
Mainstream Classroom: Mainstreaming means placing the child with special education needs in the general education classroom for part of the day. For example, the child may spend time in the special education classroom and attend a general education classroom for specific classes (reading, science, etc.)
Inclusion Classroom: The child is included in the general education class for the entire day. This type of classroom may make it easier for the child to participate in lessons. This approach is more geared toward including students with special education needs in all aspects of the school environment - in the classroom and beyond.
Different Types of LRE:
There are different types of educational placements. Each created to provide the student with the tools and resources they need to succeed. The IEP team (and parents) are responsible for deciding which LRE is best for each child.
Common Types of LRE:
- General Education Classroom - The child will spend a full day with their peers in the general education classroom. However, they receive support. Support can include anything from an aide, private tutor, assistive technology, and other modifications.
- Mainstream & Inclusion Classrooms - Kids split their learning time in general education classrooms and special education classrooms.
- Special Education Class - In a special education class, children will learn with peers who have similar learning needs.
- Specialized Program - What's best for the child may be outside of their school district. Specialized programs often include private schools, living programs, and hospital programs.