If you’ve ever been to an IEP meeting, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the concept of a Least Restrictive Environment. If you are like most parents, though, the concept may seem more complex than the name suggests. Understanding what a Least Restrictive Environment is and how it works is vital to ensuring that your child receives a proper education.
One of the most important things to recognize about the concept of a Least Restrictive Environment is that it’s not a single, set-in-stone sort of placement. Instead, LREs exist on a continuum that can range from children being placed in standard classrooms with no support to being placed at home with educational supports. It’s vital that neither parents nor school districts look at a single solution as the end-all and be-all of LREs because the terminology is not meant to work in that capacity. If a school team member seems to refer to only one kind of class as a Least Restrictive Environment, you should proceed with caution.
Tailored to the Child
Every child has his or her own version of an LRE. For some children with IEPs, working in a standard classroom is the least restrictive way they can receive an education. Others might be able to participate in a standard class, but they must have an aid. As children’s needs move up and down the continuum of ability, so too much their environments. Just because one child has been placed in a classroom when the school has determined an LRE does not mean that another student will find himself or herself in the same situation.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about an LRE is that these environments are not something that schools create out of convenience or due to their own policies. Under the IDEA, children have a right to be educated in the Least Restrictive Environment. A school cannot simply throw its hands up and complain that a child must be in a more restrictive environment because of costs or because doing so would cause them to have to make changes; instead, schools are obligated to ensure that their students have appropriate environments in which they must be educated.