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What Is Least Restrictive Environment?


Boy (9-11) raising hand in classroom
Jeff Cadge/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Definition: The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is where all U.S. students have a right to be educated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the LRE is a primary provision of IDEA, and a slippery one at that. What's "appropriate"? What's "restrictive"? These terms will be interpreted differently from one school district to another, and one parent to another. Some parents believe that LRE means their child should be fully included in mainstream programs; some districts believe that LRE means they don't have to pay for costly special education programs and can dump kids in the mainstream; some educators believe that inclusion will never work and puts too many restrictions on regular education students; and some parents feel that a regular education classroom with tons of supports and modifications is actually more restrictive for their special-needs child than a well-run, tightly structured self-contained classroom. The important thing for parents to remember is that LRE, like FAPE, must be individualized to the child -- what's most convenient or cost-effective for the school does not figure in. If you feel strongly that your child learns best in a particular environment, argue for it in terms of it being the most appropriate and least restrictive setting for this specific student.

Read more about Special Education.


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