Least Restrictive Environment: Benefits & Examples

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Teachers are required to find the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. In most cases, there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and each student has a unique set of needs. Let's take a look at an example and some of the benefits of least restrictive environments.

What is a Least Restrictive Environment?

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, children with disabilities should be educated alongside their non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible. Special classrooms, separate schools, or special education services only occur when the regular classroom setting is not enough for that child to succeed.

This means that once a child qualifies for special education services, they are not automatically put into a special education classroom. It's up to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team to determine what the least restrictive environment is for that child. The least restrictive environment refers not only to the physical placement, but also includes the education services and instruction.

Example: Victor

Let's look at a real-life example of a least restrictive environment. Victor is a fifth grade student who has been diagnosed with emotional disturbance and qualifies for special education. At school, he is violent with other students, curses, runs through the halls, tries to hurt himself, and rarely complies with teacher requests. His behavior is affecting his education and he is falling further behind the rest of the fifth graders.

Considering Victor's diagnosis, the IEP team writes his IEP and includes a description of what the least restrictive environment will look like for him:

  • Victor will have an adult aide with him at all times throughout the day. It is not safe for Victor to be on his own in any part of the school because of the hurt he may inflict on himself or other children.
  • Since his strongest subject is math, he will go into his regular fifth grade classroom (with an aide) for thirty minutes during math. He will sit through the teacher's lecture and work on the same assignments as his regular peers, but he will be assigned half the number of problems. This is appropriate because Victor acts out when he is overloaded with work. The hope is that we will be able to ease Victor into the regular classroom and workload for a typical fifth grader.
  • Victor will spend the rest of the day in the special education classroom with his special education teacher. There, he will be given instruction in reading and writing, basic fifth grade science, and social skills. This setting is most appropriate for Victor because he is far enough behind his regular peers in these areas that he would not benefit from getting this instruction in the regular classroom.
  • Additionally, Victor will be included with his regular fifth grade class in the lunch room, during silent reading time, at morning and afternoon recess, and for any class parties. This gives Victor supervised opportunities to learn how to socialize with other children and make friends.

Looking at this description, it is apparent that the IEP team carefully considered each opportunity to get him in with his regular peers as much as possible. For the majority of his academic instruction, he will be in a special education setting where he will have more one-on-one instruction, unique lesson plans that are specific to him and his needs, and fewer peers to distract him.

The IEP team understands that Victor will benefit from increased exposure to other fifth graders and the fifth grade curriculum. As the year progresses and Victor improves, the IEP team will adjust his schedule to increase the time and services he has with other fifth graders.

Benefits of Least Restrictive Environments

Research has shown that students with disabilities benefit when they are educated alongside their non-disabled peers. A few of these benefits include:

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