Special Education Law 101 - Part II Revisited

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Beginning last week, I have been running a repeat series I wrote a few years ago on the basics of special education law, with a few updates as appropriate. This is part two.

Today's post is on the requirement of the least restrictive environment, which along with FAPE is one of the twin towers required by IDEA. People are often amazed when I tell them that the word "inclusion" is not contained in IDEA. Instead the requirement is that a child with a disability be educated in the "LRE." Sometimes our fascination with FAPE overshadows the LRE analysis, but it is one of the key components of the law.

Special Ed Law 101- Part II

The Requirement of LRE (least restrictive environment)

In addition to the requirement of FAPE, which was discussed in a previous post, the IDEA also requires that to the “…maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. IDEA, § 612(a)(5). See, 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.114 to 300.119. This is known as "LRE."

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue of LRE, but a number of Circuit Courts of appeal have provided some guidance. For example, the Fifth Circuit has developed a two pronged analysis: the first question is whether the education of the student with a disability in the regular classroom, with the use of supplemental aids and services, can be satisfactorily achieved, and if it cannot, whether the school district has provided the student with interaction with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. Daniel RR v. State Board of Education 874 F.2d 1036, 441 IDELR 433 (5th Cir. 1989). (See decisions in your circuit.)

The special education law, then, requires that a child with a disability be provided a FAPE (free and appropriate public education) and that it be provided in the LRE (least restrictive environment that is appropriate for the child). These are the key legal requirements of special education law.