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A student with a disability is considered in their least restrictive environment ( lre ) when they are learning and integrated with the general education population as much as is appropriate.
IEP teams largely determine what is least restrictive as a matter of opinion, preconceived ideas of where students with disabilities must learn, pressure from other team members and administrative factors (ie. lack of resources, not enough staff, scheduling). Sadly, opinions about which classroom students with disabilities must access their education in are often formed based on perceived limitations. For example, a staff member assuming that a student with an intellectual disability will never be able to read or participate in a group activity. In many cases, when children aren’t progressing in the general education setting, it isn’t because it’s impossible for them to do so but rather because the school has yet to exhaust all avenues to successfully integrate that child, perhaps the team doesn’t even know where to start. School failures to implement successful inclusion rarely come with bad intentions or selfish motives, the truth of the matter is that many school personnel lack the experience, training, and skills to make inclusion work for all students. Many teachers and administrators aren’t aware of the scope of what can be done and can be made available through request and support from the district.
There is a great deal of research that supports that when inclusion is done with the intent of meeting the unique needs of each student with an IEP, it works for most students. Studies have shown that even children with moderate to severe disabilities gain benefit from inclusive environments in comparison to groups of children with disabilities that remained in self contained settings for the length of their school day.
Students with disabilities are entitled under IDEA to be educated in their least restrictive environment and to the maximum extent appropriate to learn alongside non disabled peers. Inclusion isn’t just a standard public schools must follow, its a positive way of life and thinking. When children with special needs transition from school years to adult years, the goal is for each adult to have a meaningful role in the greater community.
If as professionals’ inclusivity is truly our long term goal for children with disabilities, then what better way to practice and perfect the principles and philosophies of inclusion, but in our schools? After all, isn't school in general, preparation for life after school?