Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Special Education Vocab: Least Restrictive Environment

The law says that your school system is obligated to educate a student with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. Do you know what that MEANS?

What is LRE? The long list of technical terms in special education can be daunting to some parents. And since LRE is one of the most basic terms, I thought I'd take a little time here to make sure you could find a clear, concise definition...

The Least Restrictive Environment Coalition has one of the best explanations of the term least restrictive environment that I've come across on the Internet:

The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is defined as the educational setting where a child with disabilities can receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to meet his or her education needs while being educated with peers without disabilities in the regular educational environment to the maximum extent appropriate.

Their page goes on to look at a number of related questions about LRE and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), LRE and Section 504, etc.

Least Restrictive Environment is really a pretty simple concept. Any child (disabled or not) should be given an appropriate education. A child with a disability should be educated with its non-disabled peers. Sometimes a child's disability means that what's appropriate for the disabled child is different from what's appropriate for the non-disabled child. And, sometimes, the differences between what's appropriate for the disabled child and what's appropriate for his or her non-disabled peers means that the child with a disability has to be taken out of the general education setting in order to receive an appropriate education. Among the easiest examples to understand, a child with orthopedic impairments who is bound to a wheel chair may receive physical therapy during some of the time each week that his non-disabled peers spend in the gym for physical education.

The point is this, if a child with a disability is going to be removed from the regular education environment where his non-disabled peers are being educated, there needs to be some rationale, some justification as to why it needs to happen. And that justification needs to be articulated individually for each segment of time where the child is being removed: a justification for removing the child from reading and/or language arts, a justification for removing the child from math, a justification for removing the child from physical education, etc.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that separate educations could not be equal education. The ruling's initial affect was to end racial segregation. But eventually the courts applied the ruling to disability rights. Thus Least Restrictive Environment is a civil rights issue for people with disabilities. In a nutshell, schools cannot segregate students with disabilities from the non-disabled peers except when the separation is essential for an appropriate education...