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What least “Restrictive Environment” means under the IDEIA?

The concept of “least restrictive environment” is a core element of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvements Act (IDEIA), and was a fairly revolutionary concept when embraced in its predecessor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Stated simply, it is the idea that a child with a disability should receive as much of his or her education as possible in a typical classroom and should only be educated separately to the extent that his or her disabilities make it absolutely necessary.

Section 612 of the Act sets forth the concept of least restrictive environment, as well as the steps states must take to put this concept into practice:
  • Children with disabilities in both public and private institutions should be educated alongside children who are not disabled to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • In determining whether satisfactory educational results are possible in a typical classroom, teachers and administrators must account for the availability and use of supplementary aids and services.
  • Children with disabilities should only be educated separately from non-disabled children when the nature and severity of their disabilities make it impossible to achieve satisfactory results in a typical classroom, and supplementary aids or services are not feasible.
  • States cannot allocate funds for special education based on the type of setting in which a child is placed in such a funding scheme fails to provide a free appropriate public education commensurate with the child’s individual needs.

The “least restrictive environment” approach is a broad concept that seeks to prepare children with disabilities for life rather than merely shepherd them through the school system. Nevertheless, some school districts in New Jersey and throughout the country are far too willing to take the easier path of simply segregating children with disabilities. If you are concerned that your child is not receiving enough time in a typical classroom, a special education lawyer may be able to invoke provisions in IDEIA that would provide a more effective school experience.