IEP Components - Placement in the Least Restrictive Environment

This issue of NASET’s IEP Component series was written by Jay Gottlieb, Ph.D., Mark Alter, Ph.D., and Marc A. Gottlieb, Esq.

Why, forty years after passage of the original Education for All Handicapped Act of 1975 (the predecessor legislation to IDEA), is there is still no agreed-upon operational heuristic for defining the least restrictive environment?  As with so many aspects of public education, the answer is complex.  Schools are ultimately responsible for identifying the LRE, but they are buffeted by many external and internal influences that affect the quality and quantity of education IEP students receive. Even in the absence of internal or external influences, substantial variability in LRE implementation is to be anticipated; in fact, it is desirable. The underlying rationale of the federal special education law is that each student is unique and requires a tailored program. The potential wealth of services and placements recommended on an IEP define an appropriate education, and they should be different for each person.

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