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ESE504 : The Class : Advanced CD : LRE

Least Restrictive Environment

Least Restrictive Environment is a complex notion. As we all remember from the Little Mermaid fairy tale, our environment limits us in many ways. It is easy for us not to recognize the confining elements of an environment until we try to exchange one setting for the other. It is also easy for us to take familiar things for granted.

Try this Unless activity for a few phrases:

It is easy to walk up stairs UNLESS ______________________________.

It is easy to follow directions, unless ______________________________.

It is easy to read a manual, unless ________________________________.

It is simple to answer a question, unless ____________________________.

The best place for a child is a classroom, unless ______________________.

Each child should attend PE unless ________________________________.

Each youngster should eat in the cafeteria, unless ______________________.

As our ability to provide an appropriate education has expanded, so has the idea of Least Restrictive Environment or LRE.

Initially, it was exciting to get students admitted to any school, for many were not educated, but rather, institutionalized.

It was another major stride forward when Accommodation Schools - places to bus all special needs - became less prevalent and more schools had a Resource classroom and teacher and students could attend a school close to home with other children in the neighborhood.

Soon, some of the children were being mainstreamed into activities with peers - maybe PE or Lunch.

That inched youngsters closer to building relationships with youngsters who did not have disabilities. Though a label and stigma still follow the youngster, he or she had a chance to mingle with others and learn the same kinds of things at the same time in the same environment.

Pioneering teachers began to see the possibility of including students in the classroom most of the day, and inclusion became more prevalent.

Today, some children receive all their education in the classroom, and support is provided with an aide, or a teacher who comes in from time to time.


It looks like things are moving forward swimmingly!

Look at the progress we have made in the last 40 years!

EXCEPT . . . .

If you get in over your head, you may drown . . . and not everyone is best served in the same way.

So Least Restrictive Environment does not mean full inclusion for everyone, but rather, a mandate that the school provide the best way to guarantee full citizenship rights and educational opportunities to all students, regardless of disabilities.

In fact, IDEA 1997 makes it very clear that education can't just swing around and only provide inclusion - LRE means a continuum of services available, and the student matched to the one that has a "goodness of fit."

A number of issues are important to recall, no matter which way the wind blows:

#1 The spirit of the law is providing the best situation for a student, and seeing the student and his or her needs, not the disability.

#2 There is a continuum of services. Though court cases have established that a district must provide services and cannot give lack of funds as an excuse, the needs of all children are important, not just the needs of one.

#3 All children should be served in the Least Restrictive Environment, not just those who qualify for special ed.

In a test case, Board of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District v Holland (1994) the court provided four factors that must be taken into account when assessing LRE for each student and that student's individual needs:

1) The educational benefits of an integrated setting compared to those of the segregated setting

2) The nonacademic benefits of the student's interaction with peers who do not have disabilities

3) The effect of the student's presence in the general education program on the teacher and other students

4) The cost of supplementary services that are required to maintain the student in the integrated program

. . . . . and . . . . .

Question: How would you balance the needs of one child and the needs of all children? This is a crucial question, because it is a vibrant, omnipresent part of teaching.

It is an underlying theme in many Star Trek episodes. Get Spock and risk the whole ship? Save the ship and leave Jim behind? The mission or the good Doctor? Save the whales to save humanity.

It is present in every IEP --- Provide residential treatment for one youngster and have no budget for all the other students?

And it is a question that many parents wrestle with, too. Shall we get a kidney transplant for Ginger and all of us do without, or . . .?


Most prejudice is just below the surface. Remember to keep exploring ways to break out of barriers, cultural, linguistic, emotional, social, gender, educational.

Watch for ways that children are prevented from accessing opportunities - for ways that environments restrict or constrict progress in accessing, thinking, questioning.

Are we educating in the open or are there glass walls that contain us?

Once you have completed this reading you should:

Go on to Advanced CD
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E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at

Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


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