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What is the Criteria for Least Restrictive Environment?

written by: Elizabeth Wistrom • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 8/2/2012

We all like to be in a place that is comfortable and is the best place for us to learn. This is known as our "least restrictive environment." There are certain special education criteria for least restrictive environment. Read on to learn more.

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    Least Restrictive Environment

    According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, students with special needs are to be provided a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The special education criteria for least restrictive environment is that students with special needs are to be placed into regular education to the maximum extent possible. Least restrictive environment can mean different things based on the students needs. Let’s take a further look into least restrictive environment.

    At every student’s annual Individual Education Plan, IEP, meeting, the team needs to decide what placement is currently appropriate for the student. The team needs to take into account the student’s disability, strengths, and needs in order to make the best decision. It is not in every student’s interest to place them into regular education for the entire day, and that is what the team needs to look at. For some students, the least restrictive environment is being placed into special education classes for the whole day. Some students may only need a few periods. Let’s look at a few examples.

    If there is a student who only has a math disability, but exhibits average functioning in all other areas, the least restrictive environment for that student would be a resource room for math instruction, while receiving all other instruction in the general education classroom. Students that may have autism, or other severe behavior disorders, may need to be placed into special education all day because their behavior may disrupt the education of all students.

    One thing that the IEP team needs to remember when looking at least restrictive environment is the education of all students, not just the student they are talking about. All students are to receive a free and appropriate education. If a student with special needs would cause a major disruption to the learning environment, then that placement is not right based on all students’ needs.

    According to IDEA, the special education criteria for least restrictive environment is that the student is in the general education classroom to the maximum extent possible. It does not say that all students must be placed into regular education, nor does it say you can only have so many students placed into regular education. We need to take in account what is best for the student. If the student can be successfully placed into regular education with the appropriate adaptations and modifications to the curriculum, then that placement is appropriate for the student.

    The great thing about having an IEP is that is a working document. If the team decides that the placement that was chosen for the student is working, they can get together and take another look at the student’s placement. It can always be changed. If you have a student who is in special education and you think they could handle the regular education setting, let an administrator know. The team can always re-evaluate the student’s placement.

    Hopefully, you know more about the special education criteria for least restrictive environment. It is not the same for every student and needs to be carefully examined before making any decision.


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