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Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), Mainstreaming, Inclusion

Many people, including parents and teachers, have questions about what IDEA requires for the "least restrictive environment (LRE)", mainstreaming, and inclusion. Some people say that the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) requires schools to practice "inclusion". But the term "inclusion" is relatively new and is not mentioned in the IDEA statute or regulations.

The IDEA's LRE or mainstreaming policy requires public schools to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers, in their neighborhood schools (the schools they would attend if not disabled), to the maximum extent appropriate.

classroom with a teacher working with a diverse group of students
Frequently Asked Questions About about LRE, Mainstreaming and Inclusion

FAQs about Inclusion Describes ''inclusion", how placement decisions are made; how decisions be revisited; and how often? Can a teacher ask that a placement decision be reviewed? Who SHOULD be involved in decisions? How can teachers ensure that they are able to attend their student's IEP meeting?

Qs & As: The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) Requirements of the IDEA. This Memorandum from U. S. Department of Education answers frequently asked questions about LRE, inclusion; IEPs and placement decisions; supplementary aids and services; continuum of alternative placements; factors to consider when making placement decisions.

Deeper Dive into LRE, Mainstreaming and Inclusion

Department of Justice Found That Georgia Violated the ADA by Segregating Students with Disabilities. The GA GNETS program violated ADA by failing to ensure that students with behavior-related disabilities receive services and supports that could enable them to remain in, or return to, the most integrated educational placements appropriate to their needs. Read more at ADA: Information and Technical Assistance l DOJ Findings (PDF)

Mainstreaming (LRE) and FAPE Case: Analysis of L.H. v. Hamiliton County Department of Education (2018) by Pete and Pam Wright - If you are interested in special education legal issues, we encourage you to read L.H. v. Hamilton County, a wide-ranging decision about FAPE, LRE, parental rights, school culture, and tuition reimbursement issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit on August 20, 2018.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) & FAPE: What Does IDEA Require? - The IDEA includes two fundamental requirements: that the child with a disability will receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Isn't Inclusion a Right? Answers to a parent's question about placing children in self-contained classrooms.

Us v. Them: Protecting Our Children's Rights to Inclusion. Pam's advice to a teacher who asks how she can advocate and protect children's rights?

Special Education Is NOT the Resource Room, the Classroom in the Trailer, or the Special School Across Town. "Special education" under IDEA is not a place or placement or a pre-packaged program. Special education is a "service for children rather than a place where such children are sent."

Parent Involvement in Placement Decisions. The child's IEP team is responsible for developing the IEP which includes the special education and related services the school will provide. No decisions about the child's placement should be made until after the IEP has been developed. Parents are members of the child's IEP team that decides on services in the IEP, then tackles decisions about the child's placement. Courts have held that schools may not predetermine a child's placement. Placement decision must be made by the team.

Is There a Legal Definition of Self Contained Classroom? There is no legal definition of “self contained classroom” in the federal statute. The term is not in the the law. Your state special education regulations may have a definition. State education regulations often include a student-teacher ratio.

LRE: A Simplified Guide to Key Legal Requirements. Pacer Center Action information sheets revised 2009.

Information on Least Restrictive Environment. What do the terms "mainstreaming," "integration," "full inclusion," and "reverse mainstreaming" mean? Answers to LRE FAQs (revised 2005) from the CA Protection and Advocacy Inc. (CA-PAI).

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Board of Ed. of Hendrick Hudson Central School Dist. v. Rowley 458 U.S. 176 (1982). First decision in a special education case by the U. S. Supreme Court; defined "free appropriate public education" in the least restrictive environment.

Carter v. Florence County, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  While arguing that four months a year of progress in reading was appropriate, the district also argued that because Trident Academy was not on the State's "approved" list, Shannon's parents should not be reimbursed for the placement. The Court discusses the mainstreaming policy and "least restrictive environment". This ruling created a "split" among circuits that opened the door to an appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court in Florence County School District Four v. Shannon Carter

Hartmann v. Loudoun County, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, inclusion and LRE for child with autism (1997). 

L.B. and J.B. ex rel. K.B. v. Nebo UT School District
, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Parents of child with autism reimbursed for ABA therapy and private preschool which was LRE; also impartiality of hearing officer. (August 2004)

T. R. v. Kingwood Township (NJ) (3rd Cir. 2000) Clarifies requirement to provide a "free appropriate education (FAPE)" in the "least restrictive environment, meaningful benefit, continuum of placements.

Zachary Deal v. Hamilton Dept of Educ (TN Due Process Decision Aug 2001) Administrative law judge issues 45 page decision after a 27-day due process hearing; finds procedural safeguards and LRE violations; substantive violations; discusses credibility problems with school witnesses re: closed minds, evasiveness.

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Other Resources

Appropriate Academic Supports to Meet the Needs of All Students. National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) maintains that all students learn best in inclusive environments that implement high quality, science-based instruction. Problem-Solving Models in Inclusive Environments.

Considering LRE in Placement Decisions. Least restrictive environment,or LRE as it is more commonly called, is one of several vital components in the development of a child’s IEP and plays a critical role, influencing where a child spends his or her time at school, how services are provided, and the relationships the child develops within the school and community.

Benefits of Inclusion Education from KidsHealth.

What Percentage of Students with Disabilities are Education in Regular Classrooms? Fast Fact from National Center on Education Statistics.

Accessing the General Education Curriculum. Inclusion Considerations for Students with Disabilities from the IRIS Center.

Full Inclusion of All Students with Learning in the Regular Education Classroom from the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA).

Special Education Charters Renew Inclusion Debate from EdWeek. What is the best educational environment for students with disabilities: Is it a specialized school or a more mainstream setting with general education students?


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Last updated: 01/31/22

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