Introduction to Special Education Law
V. LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (“LRE”)
What Does LRE Mean?
IDEIA mandates that students with disabilities be placed in the school that will provide them the maximum opportunity — appropriate to the student’s needs — to be with students who are not disabled. This is called placing the student in the “least restrictive environment.” ike all other decisions, what is the LRE for the student is driven by the student’s need, not the convenience or cost of the school district.
Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities must also conform to the LRE mandate.
Oberti v. Board of Education of Clementon School District, 995 F.2d 1204 (3d. Cir. 1993), established a two-part test to determine whether a placement is appropriate under IDEIA:
The court must determine “whether education in the regular classroom, with supplementary aids and services, can be achieved satisfactorily.” Id. at 1215. The court will consider the following: (1) steps taken by the school district to include the child in the regular classroom; (2) comparison of the educational benefits the student would receive in the regular classroom against the benefits the child would receive in the segregated classroom; and (3) the negative effects that inclusion may have on the other children in the regular classroom. Id.
If the court finds that placement outside the regular classroom is necessary, then the court must decide whether the school has mainstreamed the child to the maximum extent appropriate (i.e., has the school made efforts to include the child in school programs with non-disabled children whenever possible). Id.
Continuum of Placements
The regulations establish a priority system among the various types of educational placements ranging from the least restrictive (placement in the regular classroom with support services) to the most restrictive (placement in segregated settings and/or homebound instruction).
Itinerant Support in the Regular Classroom: If the student receives most of his or her instruction in the regular classroom, the placement will generally be the school the student would attend if not disabled.
Resource Room or Part-Time Special Ed. Class: If the student requires assistance in the resource room or part-time class, the local school is still the LRE. However, if this is not possible, the student must be placed in another regular education building within the school district that is as close to the student as possible.
Full-time Special Education Class: If the student requires a more intensive program such as a full-time special education program, the school district must still try to place the student in a regular public school, unless the child’s needs are so complex that this would not be appropriate.
Approved Private School: In cases where the IEP cannot be implemented in a special education class within the regular public school, the student must be placed in either a public or private special education school. A private program is appropriate only if no public program exists or can be developed. Because of the LRE presumption in IDEIA, a student is assigned to a private school on a day basis only.
Residential Placement: A residential placement can be recommended by school officials only when the student needs a residential program to make meaningful educational progress, or if the only appropriate program is at a school so far away that daily transportation is not practical. If the student is placed by the school district at a day or residential placement, the program and all necessary related services must be provided at school district expense.
Homebound Instruction: The most restrictive educational placement under the law is “homebound” instruction. Under this type of placement, a teacher must see the student for 5 or more hours a week, usually at the student’s home. This type of placement can be offered only to children whose needs cannot be met in any kind of school setting, such as a child with complex medical needs who cannot leave home. Because this is the least preferred option, the placement of a child on homebound instruction must be reviewed and evaluated every 3 months.
Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (“NOREP”)
Once the IEP team has worked out an educational program and placement for the student, the school district must give or send the parent a written notice formally recommending the IEP and placement of the student. In Pennsylvania, this notice is called a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (or NOREP). A Procedural Safeguards Notice should accompany the NOREP. The NOREP explains the parents’ rights to agree or disagree, the parents’ hearing rights and other procedural rights. A NOREP is required any time the school district proposes to change the student’s program or placement.
If the parents disagree with the proposed program and placement as contained in the IEP and NOREP, the parents can disapprove the NOREP and begin the due process procedures. The parents also have the option of requesting mediation if they do not agree with the IEP and NOREP. The parents have 10 days to return the NOREP if it is mailed and 5 days if it is given to the parents at a conference.
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