Least Restrictive Environment legislation has been around since the 1990's as one of the six principles under IDEA, for which the groundwork was laid in the 1970's. The controversy over how LRE is interpreted and practiced seems to be a topic of interest to this day.
Many people use the term inclusion, but it seems as as though most don’t understand the true intent of the word. For example, some might say "this student is going to inclusion class", as if inclusion were a place we enter and exit. in this context we associate the term "inclusion" and therefore LRE with just a location. In doing so, it may be assumed that if we put the student in a certain location they have accessed their LRE. However, the intent of the law is quite different.
Inclusion is not a place. Inclusion is a philosophy. Just as LRE is not a place, but a package of supports and services that can include elements of a setting, materials, accommodations and personnel. Both LRE and inclusive philosophies are a foundation in the structure of best practices that ensures that all learners have access to meaningful education.
The continuum of LRE’s is as vast as the needs and skills of the learners we teach. Each student needs individualized consideration for LRE based on his or her unique strengths and needs. Remember, LRE is not a place but a range of services and supports that should be provided in "general education" settings as often as possible.
Imagine a backpack containing all of the IEP team-determined supports and services which the student can carry with them throughout the day. A student’s supports and services package is individualized and includes their specific accommodations, modifications, tools, materials and personnel. As the student transitions into and out of settings throughout the day they should have this imaginary backpack with them no matter where they go.
Ultimately, LRE determination should be made WITH these services and supports in place before moving to a more restrictive LRE.
There are several critical elements in successful implementation of LRE including:
"Education is the key to developing an attitude of inclusion. The practice of inclusion provides the model of acceptance, belonging, participation, worth and dignity."
- Janis Jaffe-White and Reva Schafer, Toronto Family Network
Acceptance, belonging, participation, worth and dignity… isn’t this what we want for ALL people? Modeling inclusive practices in youth paves the way for adults who value all people for who they are and the uniqueness each person brings to our society, workplace and community. If we want better outcomes for individuals with disabilities, to work and live side-by-side, we need to build the understanding early in life that each person has a unique set of needs that we bring with us to our homes, workplaces, and communities. Two people completing the same job could use different methods and materials and still accomplish the same end result. Wouldn’t it be nice if this were just the norm?