Ask the Attorney: How Do I Know if My Child is Really in the Least Restrictive Environment?

The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provision of law requires that students with disabilities receive their education alongside students without disabilities “to the maximum extent appropriate,” which is somewhat vague. This means that a student’s default placement should be in the general education classroom, often with various supports and services. Students should only be removed from that general education classroom if they can’t successfully learn in those “regular” classes, even with the help of aids and services. The curriculum and teaching methods within a “regular” class, as well as the general services available, vary between districts and states; what is consistent is the mix of students with and without disabilities.There is a continuum of placements available for your child, beginning with the general education or “typical” classroom, which is considered the least restrictive. The next more restrictive option is a resource room for a few hours a day, then a special education classroom for part or all of the school day, then a separate school for students with disabilities, and finally a hospital. The intent of the law is to keep students on the least restrictive side of the spectrum, meaning they are with their “mainstream” or “typical” peers as much as possible.I intentionally placed quotation marks around some of the words we hear a lot in the special education world. Who determines what is “mainstream” or “typical?” Why do we call one classroom “inclusion” but we don’t call the special education class “exclusion?” (Credit to COPAA for raising this latter question in a recent training.) As you enter the next IEP meeting for your child, think about the continuum of placements. Has the school system implemented all possible supports and services in the current inclusive environment before proposing something more restrictive?Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel your child belongs in a less restrictive environment be sure you know your options before agreeing to a new placement.To learn more about the placement options available for your child, read this Ask the Attorney post.Visit the Exceptional Lives Special Education Guide to learn more about LRE, classroom supports, and other accommodations that might help your child.Start MA Special Education GuideStart LA Special Education Guide