Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Long standing development about the doctrine of LRE.

11/16/20223 min read

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). An individualized LRE designed for each student is not possible. Under the law, there is only one LRE – the general education classroom with access to peers without disabilities. If a more restrictive placement is needed for a child because of their unique situation, it’s then a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) discussion. There has been longstanding development about the doctrine of LRE, developed by Congress (1) the Department of Education (2) , and the courts. IDEA requires that school districts provide both a Free Appropriate Public Education and in the Least Restrictive Environment. IDEA require that states receiving federal funds provide to all children with disabilities with not only a “Free Appropriate Public Education,” (FAPE), but also that said program be provided in the “Least Restrictive Environment” 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1) and (5). The statute explains further that, “[t]o the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities... are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education 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). The Supreme Court has recently made clear that the Individualized Education Programs (IEP) of each child with a disability must be “appropriately ambitious” to enable them to make progress in the general education curriculum in light of their unique abilities. Endrew F. v. Douglas Cty. Sch. Dist. RE-1, 137 S. Ct. 988 (2017). The Court explained that children with disabilities are to be challenged to reach their potential progress just as their non-disabled peers are challenged. For the vast majority of students with disabilities, this progress happens most effectively when children with disabilities are given access to the general education curriculum and included in the general education classrooms with their peers without disabilities. School districts are required to comply both with Endrew F.’s requirement that IEPs be “appropriately ambitious” and the statutory requirement that students receive their educational services in the children’s LRE. In its 2004 amending of the IDEA, Congress, in its findings, emphasized the importance of educating children with disabilities in the regular classroom. Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by- (A) Having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible … (B) Coordinating this title with other local, educational service agency State, Federal school improvement efforts, including improvement efforts under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, in order to ensure that such children benefit from such efforts and that special education can become a service for such children rather than a place where such children are sent; (C) Providing appropriate special education and related services, and aids and supports in the regular classroom, to such children, whenever appropriate .… 20 U.S.C. §1400(c)(5) (emphasis added). Congress recognized that “special education can become a service for such children rather that a place where such children are sent.” 20 U.S.C. §1400(c)(5)(C) (emphasis added). Accordingly, Congress has made involvement and progress in the “general curriculum” an overall priority and goal for students with disabilities, bolstering the overall dual premise of the special education to provide an appropriately ambitious program in provided in, to the maximum extent possible, the general education setting. 20 U.S.C. §1400(c)(5)(D). Several regulations ensure compliance with this LRE mandate. “The IEP must include supplementary aids and services in order to facilitate the provision of services to the student in the general education classroom.” 34 C.F.R. §300.320(a)(4). Further, a student cannot be removed from general education classes based solely on a need for curriculum modification. 34 C.F.R. §300.116(e). And if a student will not be participating in general education classes, justification for that exclusion must be provided in the IEP. 34 C.F.R. §300.320(a)(5). Additionally, as stated above, unless the IEP of a child with a disability requires some other arrangement, the child must be educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled. 34 C.F.R. §300.116(c). The IDEA is a civil rights law, designed to protect the right to education of students with disabilities. It achieves this through creating a contract between the federal government and the States. In exchange for federal dollars, the States voluntarily commit themselves to implementing the provisions of the IDEA. Districts in the States that have committed to implementing the provisions of the IDEA, have as a requirement and a priority to give students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum and education in the regular classroom to the maximum extent possible. This requirement has been strengthened in each subsequent amending of the IDEA, not for arbitrary reasons, but because the idea of an education in the LRE is based on values and on outcomes. Abundant quantitative and qualitative research demonstrates that students with disabilities can achieve considerable educational benefit from access to the general education curriculum and placement in general education classes with supplementary aids and services, such as modified curriculum, resource rooms and itinerant instruction. Only after the LRE is considered should districts move to more restrictive placement options.