Least Restrictive Environment and Mainstreaming
Least Restrictive Environment
As you read this article and complete the activities designed for your course, you will learn many important facts and skills related to working with students with disabilities. However, one of the most important concepts for you to understand as a general educator is least restrictive environment (LRE), a provision in the federal laws that have governed special education for more than three decades. The LRE provision guarantees a student's right to be educated in the setting most like that for peers without disabilities in which the student can be successful with appropriate supports provided (Burstein, Sears, Wilcoxen, Cabello, & Spagna, 2004; Karger, 2004; Palley, 2006). For many students, the least restrictive environment is full-time or nearly full-time participation in a general education classroom. In fact, in 2002-2003, approximately 48.2 percent of all school-age students with disabilities received 79 percent or more of their education in general education classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2004b). This is true for Thomas, Angela, and Aaron, who were introduced at the beginning of this chapter. Thomas and Angela ,also receive instruction in a special education classroom each day. Aaron, who can succeed in social studies class when he gives test answers aloud, may leave his classroom for that purpose only. His LRE is a general education classroom; the test procedure is a supplementary service.
For some students—for example, some who have emotional or behavioral disabilities or autism—being in a general education classroom nearly all day may be academically and emotionally inappropriate. For these students, the LRE may be a general education classroom for part of the day and a special education classroom, sometimes called a resource room, for the remainder of the day. Yet other students' LRE may be a special education setting for most of the day, sometimes referred to as a self-contained class. Students with significant behavior problems and students who require intensive supports may be educated in this way. Finally, just a few students with disabilities attend separate or residential schools or learn in a home or hospital setting. These very restrictive options usually are necessary only for students with the most significant or complex disabilities.
Identifying an LRE other than a general education setting is a serious decision that usually is made by a team of professionals and a student's parents only after intensive supports have been provided in the general education classroom without success. These supports can include alternative materials or curriculum, assistance from a paraprofessional (that is, a teaching assistant) or a special education teacher, adaptive equipment such as a computer, or consultative assistance from a psychologist or counselor. Alternatively, a few students' needs are so great that a setting outside general education is the only one considered. The points to remember are that the LRE for most students with disabilities is general education and that you, as a professional educator, have a crucial role to play in these students' education.
© ______ 2009, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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