The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education

The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education

The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education

The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education

Synopsis

The Least Restrictive Environment: Its Origins and Interpretations in Special Education examines issues of ethical leadership and clarifies instructional placement decisions that provide a full educational opportunity for students with disabilities.

Excerpt

Special education reform initiatives place educators in predicaments for which there are few blueprints and many alternative readings. In the flux of restructuring schools to produce higher student outcomes, teachers and administrators are challenged to provide, with confidence and integrity, a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) as required by law for their students with disabilities. Without an understanding of the history of the plans for FAPE and LRE and alternative interpretations of the few existing blueprints, educators risk creating a structure that is illegal, untrustworthy, or both. This volume is intended to give educators insights into how FAPE and LRE emerged as guiding principles of special education and how these concepts have been interpreted in case law, in educational research and practice, and by advocates and parents.

The emphasis on site-based management in current school reform shifts the focus away from centralized accountability for special education services. As a result, building principals and their assistants frequently serve on committees that determine the type of instructional setting in which a special education student will be placed. These administrators participate in decision making in an era of interest in creating innovative educational environments and school choice. However, their decisions are undermined by vague definitions and disagreement about the terms used to describe special education placement options such as mainstreaming, inclusion, or the continuum of alternative placements. Often lost in the rhetoric is the explicit goal of the federal law -- the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) -- most recently reauthorized in 1997. IDEA requires that all students with disabilities be provided a full educational opportunity through FAPE in the LRE, and that promising practices, materials, and technology be employed. This trio of FAPE, LRE, and validated practices has been called by some "the holy trinity" of special education law. Nevertheless, the nature and very legitimacy of one member of the trinity -- LRE -- is questioned by some advocates of special education reform. Consequently, the discussion here is focused on questions of placement and the meanings attached to the term least restrictive environment.

The intent here is to provide greater clarity to issues of student placement by examining the concept of the LRE from a variety of perspectives. Our goal is a deeper understanding of the principles that undergird placement decisions, and our method is an examination of the relation over time between the legal requirement of an appropriate education for students with disabilities and the restrictiveness of the educational environments in which they are served. Our inquiry is prompted by the overall question of how integration became the central discourse in special education. The questions for which we have sought . . .

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