Approximately 13% of AUSL students have IEPs and receive special education services. These students are a heterogeneous group, and as the authors of the CCSS remind us, in order for students with disabilities to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, instruction must include supports and services designed to meet their unique needs and to enable access to the general education curriculum across all learning environments (IDEA 34 CFR §300.34, 2004).
Understanding the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is an important step toward ensuring that all students have meaningful access to general education. LRE is the place or setting where a student with disabilities receives his/her special education and related services. CPS has classified LRE as follows:
- LRE 1 – removal from general education 0- 20% of the time (least restrictive)
- LRE 2 – removal from general education 21-60% of the time
- LRE 3 – removal from general education more than 61% of the time (most restrictive)
What is the “General Education Curriculum”?
The general education curriculum refers to the content of the curriculum used at the school. The general education curriculum must be aligned with the learning standards (i.e., CCSS). All students with disabilities must have access to age and grade appropriate general education curriculum.
Making the LRE Decision
The LRE is based on a student’s unique needs and not on the disability. The appropriate LRE differs for each student, but the first placement option considered at every IEP meeting must be the general education classroom, with supplementary aids and services. Separate classes or other types of removal from the general education classroom are appropriate only when education in the general education classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be satisfactorily achieved.
Here are a few questions that teams should consider when making the LRE decision:
- Is it possible for the student to receive his/her individually determined services in a general education classroom?
- Can supplementary aids and services accommodate the student’s needs in the general education class?
- Can the student achieve his/her IEP goals within the general education classroom with the use of supplementary aids and services?
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Consider the Continuum
Of the 13% of AUSL students with IEPs, the largest category of students receiving special education is students with learning disabilities (58%). Other categories include speech and language impairments, emotional disturbance, and other health impairments. The vast majority of these students by definition do not have a cognitive disability. In fact, many are of average or above-average intelligence. For this reason, ISBE has established statewide LRE targets. The current target for LRE 1 is 52%. In CPS, approximately 50.4% of all students with disabilities are in LRE 1. In the AUSL network, this number is closer to 42%.
We must continue to make LRE decisions based on individual student need and consider the general education classroom as the first option. However, just placing students in the general education classroom is not the answer. Schools must provide students with the additional supplementary aids and services needed to be successful in their LRE (assistive technology, accommodations or modifications, behavior intervention, direct special education support, etc.). Additionally, both general and special education teachers must receive training on how to successfully include students and effectively collaborate with each other. Moreover, it is imperative that schools offer a continuum of services; if teams determine that a student should be removed from the general education classroom for any part of the day, they must move down this continuum until the appropriate placement is selected.
So why does LRE matter? LRE matters because our students matter, because we have high expectations for them, and because we believe in providing them with an individualized support system to access the general education curriculum.
Why do you think LRE matters? Have a story of a student who has successfully transitioned to a less restrictive environment? We want to know. Share it here!