Least Restrictive Environment

What is Inclusion?

Inclusive education, according to its most basic definition, means that students with disabilities are educated in age-appropriate general education classes in their home schools and receive the specialized instruction identified and outlined in their individualized education plan (IEP).   

Inclusion – What does the law say? IDEA does not use the term "inclusion”.  IDEA uses the term Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).  IDEA defines this to mean that to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as "supplementary aids and services," with their non-disabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless a student's individualized education program (IEP) requires some other arrangement.

IDEA does not require that every student with a disability be placed in the regular classroom regardless of individual abilities and needs. IDEA recognizes that not all students can be served appropriately through this model therefore school districts must make available a range of placement options, known as a continuum of alternative placements, to meet the unique educational needs of students with disabilities. This requirement continues to reinforce the importance of individualized supports and services and that education is not a “one size fits all” model for determining placement for students with disabilities.  The options on this continuum must include the alternative placements listed in the definition of special education under 300.17 (instruction in regular classes, special classes, special schools, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions).

Inclusion is not the same as mainstreaming or integration. Mainstreaming attempts to move students from special education classrooms to regular education classrooms only in situations where they are able to keep up with their typically developing peers.  Integration provides only “part-time” inclusion, which prevents the students from becoming full members of the classroom community.

Best practice and research shows that inclusion benefits all students involved in the process.  Students with disabilities who are taught within the general education classroom with supports and systematic instruction achieve better outcomes in the areas of academics, communication, social, and behavior.  Teachers who teach students with disabilities become more confident about their ability to teach students with diverse and unique needs. Research studies also show the distinct benefits that inclusion provides to students without disabilities.  These students typically experience growth in social and emotional well being and gain a greater understanding and acceptance of students with disabilities and of diversity in general.  Students without disabilities also experience increased self-esteem and overall improvement in their own self-development. There are no studies that document unfavorable academic or social effects on students without disabilities when students with disabilities participate in the general education classroom.


Inclusion! The Bigger Picture
by Marsha Forest & Jack Pearpoint

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) & FAPE
by Pete Wright, Esq. and Pamela Wright, MA, MSW 

Florida Department of Education Technical Assistance Paper: 
Least Restrictive Environment Considerations Related to Individual Educational Plans