The Virgin Islands State Office of Special Education advises parents of children with disabilities and the general public of the guiding principles for the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) for children with disabilities in the classroom. Jill Singer, assistant director for the state office, said that one of the goals of the territory’s special education offices is to inform, educate and make parents and guardians more aware of their educational rights and responsibilities. “One of those rights is a student’s right to be educated in the least restrictive environment. The State and districts must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the state meet the LRE and Inclusion requirements.”
What is The Least Restrictive Environment?
As part of theIndividuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA), the least restrictive environment requires all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to ensure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled. This applies to children ages three to 21. Special classes, separate schooling or removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. Each public agency must ensure that there is a continuum of alternative placements for students with disabilities to meet their special education and related services needs. The continuum must include placements in regular education classes (inclusion), special classes, special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and other institutions, including residential treatment centers.
What is Inclusion?
“Inclusion” is a term which expresses a commitment to educate each child to the maximum extent appropriate in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend, with same-aged peers in a regular education classroom setting. “Full inclusion” means that students, regardless of their disabling condition or the severity of their disability, will be placed in the regular education classroom, full time, and receive the regular education curriculum with or without modifications, accommodations or other aids, services and supports.
Singer said, “The touchstone for measuring success of an inclusive setting is determined by whether the student is meeting his/her educational goals and is receiving educational benefit from the regular education curriculum. With an inclusive educational setting, all services should be brought to the student, rather than pulling the student from the classroom to provide special education or related services. Inclusion helps increase students with disabilities self-esteem and encourages tolerance by non-disabled peers to accept those who may learn or behave differently from themselves.”
The extent of time that a student with a disability is included in the regular education setting and participates in the general curriculum, is determined by the members of the Individualized Education Program team (IEP), which is comprised of the student’s parent, the student, when appropriate, and other individuals such as the regular education teacher, the special education teacher, evaluators who can explain testing results and the educational impact of the assessments, related services personnel and other knowledgeable, interested individuals whom the parent can request to accompany them to the IEP meeting. Additionally, the amount of time and classes in which the student spends time in an inclusive, regular education environment, is based on the severity of the student’s disability as well as the required services, supports, modifications and accommodations the student requires to benefit from being in that setting.
“Placement must be determined at least annually; and it must be based on an IEP that is reviewed at least annually or more frequently upon the request of the parent. Under the IDEA, placement is required to be in a setting that is as close as possible to the child’s home,” Singer said. “Unless the IEP of a child with a disability requires some other arrangement, the child is to be educated in the school that he or she would attend if nondisabled. If the student’s needs exceed that which is available in the school he or she should attend if non-disabled, then the student must be placed in the closest school to his or her home. Finally, in selecting the LRE, consideration must be given to any potential harmful effect on the child or on the quality of services that he or she needs. A child with a disability should not be removed from education in an age-appropriate regular classroom solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.”
For more information about LRE, contact Madelyn Lake-Thomas, state supervisor for curriculum and assessment, at 776-5802.