What is the Legal Definition of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)?

Learn about the legal and procedural process of choosing an LRE

LRE for students. Getty Images Credit: Hero Images

Definition of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) that is appropriate for them. The spirit of this requirement is to ensure that children are not unnecessarily removed from the regular classroom or isolated from other non-disabled children of their age.

LRE decisions are made based on children's learning needs and vary from child to child. IDEA also requires that schools provide a full continuum of services ranging from regular classrooms with support to special classes, and special school placements as needed.

Who Decides What Your Child's Least Restrictive Environment Should Be?

Your child's Individual Education Program (IEP) team is responsible for determining the most appropriate educational placement in the least restrictive environment that can meet her educational needs. Many factors go into that decision, such as:

  • Your child's ability to focus;
  • The type of skills she needs to learn;
  • How much individually designed instruction she needs;
  • And other education issues unique to each child.

Choosing the appropriate LRE is important to ensure that your child receives the instruction she needs, and federal special education regulations require that students with learning disabilities must be educated in the LRE.

The LRE is not any specific placement. Rather, it is the most appropriate placement for a child that is chosen from a range of options. The placement:

  • Is a place in school where the IEP can be implemented;
  • Is a flexible arrangement to meet the child's individual needs; and
  • Can range from a separate classroom or school all day or part of the day to all day placement in a regular classroom with appropriate supportive services.

    A child's IEP team determines LRE based on:

    • IEP requirements;
    • The amount of direct instruction the child needs;
    • The setting most likely to help the child achieve his goals;
    • The school facilities needed to support the child's learning; and
    • Consideration of services in the child's home school.

    What Educational Placement Options Are Available?

    School districts are required to make a continuum of alternative placements available to meet the needs of all students. The full range of potential placements includes:

    • Instruction in general education classes with accommodations and collaboration;
    • Separate Classes;
    • Separate Schools;
    • Home Instruction; and
    • Instruction in Hospitals and Institutions.

    The range of appropriate placements can also include combinations of those listed above.

    What Must Schools Provide to Keep Students in General Education Classroom?

    The federal special education regulations require that a child with a disability will not be removed from the regular classroom to receive instruction unless his educational needs cannot be met with supplemental aids and services in regular classes. All placement decisions are made by the IEP team with parent input, are based on the IEP, and are reviewed at least annually.

    The IEP team should also consider any potentially negative effects of a placement on the child and on the adequacy of services the child may receive. The team determines placement after the IEP has been developed based on its requirements.

    Examples of general education class interventions may include but are not limited to:

    • Adapted and modified classwork and assignments;
    • Assistive technology, such as a text reader;
    • Extended time to complete a task, assignment, or test;
    • Seating in the classroom; and
    • Differentiated instruction.

    Students with disabilities are to be given equal opportunity to participate in nonacademic social and extracurricular activities that are appropriate for them such as:

    • Sports;
    • Performing arts such as band and choral groups; and
    • Student Clubs and Committees.

    What should I do if I disagree with the placement decision? Find out what you need to know about disagreements with your child's school over educational placement and other educational issues.

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