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Masters of Special Education with Academic Instruction Certification

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - Topic 2

What is it?

     Education provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) means that students with disabilities are educated with their peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.  The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) mandated that:

      To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal children with disabilities from the regular [general] education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.  (IDEA, 2004, PL 108-446, Sec. 614[d])

      Federal regulations require school districts to have a continuum of educational placements available to meet the individual needs of students.  The continuum progresses from the most restrictive educational delivery system being homebound or hospital instructional programs to the least restrictive environment of a general education classroom with no specialized assistance.  In between these two extremes on the LRE continuum are residential facilities, separate school facilities, separate classes and part-time resource room options. (Hardman, Egan, & Drew 2011)


Hardman, M.L., Drew, C.J., Egan, M.W. & Wolf, B. (2011) Human Exceptionality, Society, School and

        Family (10th Edition), Boston:  Allyn and Bacon.

Rueda, R., Gallego, M.A., & Moll, L.C. (2000) The least restrictive environment: A place or a context?

        Remedial and Special Education, 21(2).

Turnbull, H.R. (1994) Free appropriate education: The law and children with disabilities. Denver, CO:


Yell, M.L. (1995) Least restrictive environment, inclusion, and students with disabilities: analysis and commentary,

Journal of Special Education, 28(4).


Web Links

      U.S. Department of Education

Why is it important?

      The issue of LRE is increasingly important as the special education population grows.  The number of school-age children with disabilities is increasing at a faster rate than general school enrollment.  A large number of these students have high-incidence disabilities and will be educated in general education settings along with their non-disabled peers.

     Although most of the Special Education community agrees with the principles of LRE there is discussion about how to best implement it in practice.  Early advocates focused on the setting of the LRE to address issues of inequity and segregation.  (Turnbull, 1994)  Others have extended the conversation to focus on the context of supports and opportunities for meaningful participation beyond the “placement” decision.  (Rueda, Gallego, & Moll, 2000).

     In 2005 a settlement was reached between parties representing Lydia Gaskin and the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  The settlement requires monitoring of Pennsylvania school districts regarding their implementation of LRE.  PDE agreed to conduct more onsite training for schools and adapt the IEP policies and documentation to ensure schools consider a wide range of supplementary services and supports to promote access to and success in general education classrooms.

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