Least restrictive environment

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In the U.S. the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a special education law that mandates regulation for students with disabilities in order to protect their rights as students and the rights of their parents. Under this act it is required that all students receive a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), and that these students should be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The least restrictive environment clause states that students with disabilities should be educated with students without disabilities to the maximum appropriate extent.[1] If a student should require supplementary aids and services necessary (such as an interpreter, resource room or itinerant teacher) to achieve educational goals while being placed in a classroom with students without disabilities, they should be provided as needed.[2]

Should the nature or severity of their disability prevent the student from achieving these goals in a regular education setting, the student would be withdrawn from the regular education setting and be placed in an alternate environment that is more suitable for the student.[1] Schools and public agencies are required to have a continuum of alternative placements for students with disabilities. These alternate placements include but are not limited to special classes, hospital and institutions, and home school. This is to ensure that schools are capable of meeting the needs of all students with disabilities. This continuum of placements is not always full inclusion or complete separate schooling, but can be a mix of both regular education classes and other alternate placements.[2]

To determine what an appropriate setting is for a student, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team will review the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs, and consider the educational benefits from placement in any particular educational setting. By law the team is required to include the student's parent or guardian, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, a representative of the local education agency, someone to interpret evaluation results and if appropriate the student. It is the IEP team's responsibility to determine what environment is the LRE for any given student with disabilities, which varies between every student.[3]

Court rulings[edit]

Because the law does not clearly state to what degree the least restrictive environment is, courts have had to interpret the LRE principle. In a landmark case interpreting IDEA's predecessor statute (EHA), Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Education (1989), it was determined that students with disabilities have a right to be included in both academic and extracurricular programs of general education. But, the Court stated, IDEA does not contemplate an all-or-nothing educational system in which children with disabilities attend either regular or special education. Rather, the Act and its regulations require schools to offer a continuum of services. Thus, the school must take intermediate steps where appropriate, such as placing the child in regular education for some academic classes and in special education for others, mainstreaming the child for nonacademic classes only, or providing interaction with non-disabled children during lunch and recess. The appropriate mix will vary from child to child and, it may be hoped, from school year to school year as the child develops. If the school officials have provided the maximum appropriate exposure to non-disabled students, they have fulfilled their obligation under IDEA.[4]

In Board of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District v. Rachel H., 14 F.3d 1398 (9th Cir. 1994), four factors were identified as things needed to be taken into consideration when determining if the student’s LRE is appropriate. They are:

  • the educational benefits of integrated settings versus segregated settings,
  • nonacademic benefits (primarily social interaction with non-disabled peers),
  • the effect the student with a disability can have on the teacher and their peers, and
  • the cost of supplementary services that will be required for that student to stay in the integrated setting.[5]

Simply stated, the student should receive an appropriate version of the educational and social benefits which non-disabled students routinely receive in school. In broad theory, the court does not allow the education of the student’s non-disabled peers to be negatively affected, although applying this test fairly to all the facts and circumstances of a specific situation may be very difficult. The final factor, cost of supplementary services, provides a safeguard for schools so that they do not exceed spending on one particular student.[5]

Least restrictive environment for the Deaf[edit]

The least restrictive environment clause states that students should be able to be educated in an environment with "non-disabled peers." However in the case of Deaf students there are many cases where a mainstream classroom may not be the most inclusive, or least restrictive, environment. The NAD (National Association of the Deaf) believes that the least restrictive environment for the Deaf is an environment that promotes a child's social, cognitive and emotional development with the least amount of communication and language barriers.[6] In many cases the supposed least restrictive environment leads to (linked) language deprivation and subpar educational results, and an environment with all Deaf students and those certified to communicate with the Deaf has proven to be the truly least restricting environment.

There are some accommodations that can be made to make a mainstream school more appropriate for a deaf child, such as interpreters, a Deaf program within a mainstream school with Deaf peers and language models present, or CART services. However, these are not always successful nor the best option for every deaf child. Deaf residential and day schools provide certain benefits that the typical LRE would not hold, such as placing Deaf students into classrooms with kids their own age and amount of hearing loss, and with staff that are certified to work the deaf, to facilitate social interaction. Deaf schools also may have specialized education equipment and extracurricular activities that are made communicably accessible to the Deaf to help promote growth emotionally and cognitively.[7]

Benefits of the typical least restrictive environment for the Deaf[edit]

There are certain studies that have shown that the typical inclusion model for the Deaf has some benefits. A specific study found that a classroom with both hearing and Deaf and hard of hearing students actually helped improved signing development for the Deaf. It also showed improvement in certain testing scores such as reading vocabulary/comprehension and solving math problems.[8] The NAD supports placement of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students in the regular education setting if the placement decision made was based on thorough evaluation of the student and their needs. They believe that the placement and resources provided for the student should be based on communication and that the IEP team making the decision should be fully educated on the issues related to sign language and the needs of the Deaf population.[6] Additionally, within the IDEA there is a subsection describing alternative appropriate school placements. Within this section special schools are included.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Stephen; Rapport, Mary Jane (1998). "Least restrictive environment: Understanding the direction of the courts". ProQuest. 32 (2).
  2. ^ a b "Sec. 300.115 Continuum of alternative placements | Individuals with Disabilities Education Act". sites.ed.gov. Retrieved 2018-05-07.
  3. ^ Bost, Julie (2015). "How individualized education plan team members determine least restrictive environment and educational placement". ProQuest.
  4. ^ Daniel R.R. v. State Bd. of Educ., 874 F.2d 1036, 1050 (5th Cir.1989)
  5. ^ a b "Sec. 300.114 LRE requirements". IDEA.gov.
  6. ^ a b "Position Statement on Inclusion". National Association of The Deaf. National Association of The Deaf. Retrieved 2018-04-01.
  7. ^ Dubow, Sy (Spring 1989). ""Into the turbulent mainstream" - a legal perspective on the weight to be given to the least restrictive environment in placement decisions for deaf children". Journal of Law and Education. 18 (2): 215–28. ERIC EJ392026.
  8. ^ Kreimeyer, Kathryn; Crooke, Pamela; Drye, Cynthia; Egbert, Vivian; Clein, Barbara (2000-04-01). "Academic and Social Benefits of a Co-enrollment Model of Inclusive Education for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Children". Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. 5 (2): 174–185. doi:10.1093/deafed/5.2.174.
  9. ^ "Sec. 300.115 Continuum of alternative placements". IDEA.gov.
  • Leal, Dorothy; Smith, Sean; Shank, Marilyn; Turnbull, Ann; & Turnbull, Rud (2002). Exceptional Lives: Special Education in Today’s Schools (3rd ed.) Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc.