Why Least Restrictive Environment in Special Education is Critical for Student Success

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) helps children reach their full potential in school. It gives them the opportunity to learn along with their peers and has other advantages beyond academic progress. LRE makes it possible for students with disabilities to benefit from an Individualized Education Program (IEP) without sacrificing learning with their classmates without disabilities.

This guide is ideal for parents, teachers, and other special education professionals who want to know how LRE benefits students and promotes their success in the classroom. Here, I talk about how LRE works and how it benefits students. Then, I give more details on how you can create inclusion in the classroom to improve student learning.

Reaching Goals with LRE

  • What is Least Restrictive Environment?
  • How Does LRE Work?
  • How Does LRE Benefit My Student?
  • How Can Supplementary Aids and Services Work Toward Student Success?
  • How Can I Create Inclusion in the Classroom?
  • What’s Next?

What is Least Restrictive Environment?

Least restrictive environment is an important part of a child’s IEP. To give students with disabilities the best possible education, LRE works to keep those students in the same classroom as their non-disabled peers as much as possible. Even when it’s not possible, LRE still tries to keep students engaged with their school and community.

LRE isn’t a place in itself. instead, it’s the overall environment where a child learns. Sometimes the least restrictive environment is in the classroom full-time. Other times, the student might spend time in a special education classroom.

LRE doesn’t necessarily mean that a child’s education takes place in the classroom. Sometimes, their disability means they can’t go to school in-person. In cases like those, LRE might be their home or the hospital. It’s all up to the individual child’s needs and what gives them the best education.

How Does LRE Work?

LRE works differently for each child, but the concept stays the same. Often, the IEP team will decide what LRE means for the child. Parents have a say in how LRE works for their child, and so do special education professionals who know what type of placement works best for the student and who know how to develop an IEP.

When considering LRE, the IEP team will assess student needs and see what type of environment suits them best. A child’s placement can change from year to year.

The IEP team will reassess each year to decide whether the current LRE still serves their needs. Things like the percentage of time in the classroom, the type of assistance the child receives, and how much time they spend in a special education classroom varies.

When talking about LRE, you might hear terms like mainstreaming, inclusion, and integration. Mainstreaming refers to putting students in a regular classroom for their education. Their schooling may include special education staff to help them through their day. However, many schools no longer use this term and instead focus on inclusion.

Inclusion is a little different than mainstreaming in that it does more than just put a student in a regular classroom. It works to include students with disabilities in activities with their nondisabled peers, like after school programs. You might also hear the term full inclusion, which means that the student spends 100% of their time at school in the classroom with their peers, even if they have special support.

Integration refers to students placed in special ed classrooms at school. It works like mainstreaming but with more effort to bring students with disabilities and non-disabled students together.

Some schools do reverse mainstreaming, where non-disabled students visit a special education school to work with students with disabilities. However, that’s not the ultimate goal of LRE. LRE aims to get students with disabilities into general classrooms with non-disabled students to create natural relationships.

How Does LRE Benefit My Student?

Just like with setting up the student’s IEP, LRE will benefit each child uniquely. I like to point out a few key areas where most students see growth and better experiences through their learning with LRE.

More Progress in School

The more time students with disabilities spend in a general classroom, the more progress they make in their schoolwork. They progress further in school subjects like math and spelling, and it can have a positive impact on their attendance and discipline.

Sometimes, teachers worry that having students with disabilities will disrupt other students’ learning. Proper inclusion shows that’s not the case. When students can work with others who have many different learning styles, they can improve their own learning. Learning in the general classroom both challenges students and helps them explore subjects more expansively.

Social Experiences

While LRE focuses on a student’s education, it’s not only about the school curriculum. Students benefit from LRE by having as much interaction with their peers as possible. Students with disabilities learn social skills by forming natural relationships with nondisabled students.

Students feel more involved in their communities with LRE. They can participate in more social activities at school, like extracurricular activities, that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy. As a result, students with disabilities can improve their language, behavior, motivation, and self-esteem when they have more varied models for them.

These social experiences benefit children beyond the classroom, too. They can use the social skills they learn in school both at home and in the world to achieve both academic and non-academic goals.

More Inclusion

Inclusion benefits all students in the classroom. For students with disabilities, it enables them to have a more comprehensive education and more varied experiences. It also lets them experience their education more freely.

When students with disabilities have LRE in their general classrooms, other students can also benefit from inclusion. Some students don’t qualify for an IEP, but they may still have disabilities or struggle with certain concepts. When a teacher covers a concept to benefit students with disabilities, all students can learn something!

Inclusion teaches learning and behavioral strategies for everyone. Although some concepts were created to accommodate students with disabilities in ways the regular classroom typically doesn’t, inclusion ensures that anyone who needs those approaches can benefit.

Inclusion can also help prepare students with disabilities for the future. They learn how to approach many different situations, like conflict with peers, which can help them in both school, work, and social situations. It allows for exploration of different learning styles and creates more opportunity for students with disabilities in the regular classroom when their environment works to their strengths.

How Can Supplementary Aids and Services Work Toward Student Success?

Supplementary aids and services take many forms and they can make all the difference to a student’s education. In an IEP these are referred to as accommodations or modifications depending on the type of support required. Schools should offer them not only in the classroom but during nonacademic activities like extracurriculars.

Schools must offer these types of services. The ones a child needs should be outlined in the IEP. Some of the supplementary aids and services a student may need include:

  • More time for completing assignments and tests
  • Altered assignments
  • Adjusted pacing in class
  • Note-takers and similar assistants
  • Physical environment modifications
  • Digital class materials
  • Materials specifically for home use
  • Allowing student breaks

Not all students with disabilities need these types of accommodations in or outside of class. If they receive satisfactory education in the classroom without these types of services, that’s great! But for many students with disabilities, these services are necessary. Without them, the student wouldn’t receive the education they should.

How Can I Create Inclusion in the Classroom?

For LRE to offer what students need, it must not only offer supplementary aids and services or a separate learning environment but create awareness and acceptance within the classroom.

Many teachers don’t have the knowledge they need to create inclusion that helps students with disabilities and benefits their education. Studies also show that many teachers have negative or mixed views of inclusion in the classroom.

Inclusion in the classroom can help make a child with a disability feel more comfortable in their environment, especially if they feel their needs are met. If you’re a teacher and you’re working to increase general classroom inclusion, you can start with some of these actions:

  • Understand and teach to various learning styles
  • Value different student perspectives
  • Implement creative solutions
  • Highlight student abilities and strengths
  • Accommodate disabilities and unique needs
  • Expand skills to understand and meet student needs
  • Foster empathy in the classroom

This isn’t an exhaustive list. It’s also a good idea to work with students personally and connect with IEP teams to see how you can better accommodate students on a day-to-day basis.

If your school or district has a special needs PTA, contact them and ask for support. This can come in the form of information, resources, and volunteer/partnerships.

Part of inclusion means working together, both with students and other professionals who have experience working with students with disabilities.

What’s Next?

I hope this guide helped you understand how important LRE is for students to succeed in academic and social goals. Each student is unique, and making sure they have LRE that fits their situation best makes all the difference to their learning.

When you’re open to learning as much as you teach, you can find new ways to make students feel welcome in the classroom and help them succeed with LRE.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or send me an email! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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