Statement of Principles from the Education Task Force of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities
The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) is the largest coalition of national organizations working together to advocate for federal public policy that ensures the self-determination, independence, empowerment, integration and inclusion of children and adults with disabilities in all aspects of society. The Education Task Force of CCD monitors federal legislation and regulations that address the educational needs of children and youth with disabilities and their families, including regulatory efforts under federal law such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Education Task Force advocates for high expectations for children with disabilities under these and other laws. This document lays out the Task Force’s principles for meeting the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirement within federal education laws and regulations.
1. Every Child Must Be Educated in the Least Restrictive Environment to the Maximum Extent Appropriate
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) makes clear that every child with a disability must receive their education alongside students without disabilitiesto the maximum extent appropriate.i This fundamental promise within the law is known as the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) requirement.ii The IDEA regulations require that removal from the general education classroom/environment should occur only when, due to the nature and severity of a child’s disability, education in a general education classroom with supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.iii Thus, while districts must have a continuum of services and placements available for the small minority of students whose unique needs justify an alternative placement, the IDEA and its regulations both presumethat the general education classroom will be the placement for every child with a disability unless an education in that setting cannot be satisfactorily achieved even with supplementary aids and services.iv
Over the years, the LRE mandate in law and regulations, along with its interpretation by the courts, has increased the number of students with disabilities learning alongside their nondisabled peers in general education classrooms. Any interpretation of LRE that differs or weakens the requirement and increases the inappropriate placement of students with disabilities in more segregated settings contradicts the clear language and intent of the IDEA and established legal precedent.
2. General Education Classrooms Are the Least Restrictive Environment for the Vast Majority ofStudents
Students with disabilities are general education students first. Any student receiving specialized services (e.g., students with disabilities, low-income students, English Learners) is first and foremost a student in the general education system.v
School districts must ensure that children with disabilities are educated with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate during the school day.vi Students with disabilities must be provided with appropriate services and supports in the general education classroom before schools may consider more restrictive, segregated placements. Educators must be provided with the supports they need to be able to include students with disabilities appropriately in their classrooms. Needed adaptations, modifications, and accommodations must be provided to maximize the potential for success in the general education setting, in classrooms and also in extracurricular activities taking place in the school.vii LRE acknowledges that it may not always be appropriate for every child to be educated in the general education classroom for the entire day. However, courts have historically held that where a full-time placement in general education cannot be achieved satisfactorily, a school district must still ensure that the child is educated with nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.viii Additionally, even if a student may demonstrate academic progress in a segregated setting, the child is not required to remain there, but instead can be included in the general education classroom and should be provided the supports they need to make progress there.ix
3. Least Restrictive Environment and Education in the General Education Classroom Offer Benefits for All Students
When LRE requirements are met, students with disabilities participate to a greater extent in — and receive the benefits of — learning in general education classrooms. Research overwhelmingly shows that providing students with disabilities an education in the general education classroom has clear academic, social, and behavioral benefits for students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities.x Specifically:
- Research funded through the U.S. Department of Education shows that students who spend most of their time in general education classrooms “are closer to grade level in their reading and math abilities, and have higher test scores in those same areas” than students who spend more time in segregatedsettings.”xi
- Students with disabilities who are educated alongside students without disabilities experience fewer disciplinary incidents,xii and better outcomes related to graduation,xiii employment and postsecondaryeducation.xiv
- Students without disabilities also benefit from the inclusion of students with disabilities in their classrooms: they make positive academic gains in math and reading when they are taught in settings with students with disabilities,xv are offered enhanced learning opportunities,xvi and benefit from social relationships with students withdisabilities.xvii
Federal law and regulations are clear that children with disabilities have a right to be educated in general education settings alongside their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. To overcome the presumption that a child should be in a general education setting requires evidence that the student’s education — even after supplementary aids and services are provided in the general education classroom — cannot be achieved satisfactorily there. After almost 45 years of families, people with disabilities, and disability advocates working to expand and enhance the inclusion of children with disabilities in general education settings, it is imperative that federal policy continues to reinforce and advance the true purpose of LRE.
Statutory and Regulatory Language
20 U.S. Code § 1412 (5) Least restrictive environment
(A) In general — 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 not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
Sec. 300.114 LRE requirements
- Except as provided in §300.324(d)(2) (regarding children with disabilities in adult prisons), the State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that public agencies in the State meet the LRE requirements of this section and §§300.115 through300.120.
- Each public agency must ensurethat—
- 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;and
- Special classes, separate schooling, or other 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.
- American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities American Civil Liberties Union
- American Dance Therapy Association American Foundation for the Blind American Music Therapy Association American Occupational Therapy Association American Physical Therapy Association American Psychological Association
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Assistive Technology Act Programs
- Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) Autism Society of America
- Autistic Self Advocacy Network Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law Brain Injury Association of America Center for Public Representation
- Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Council for Exceptional Children
- Council for Learning Disabilities
- Council of Administrators of Special Education Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
- Division for Early Chlldhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) Division for Learning Disabilities of the Council for Exceptional Children (DLD) Higher Education Consortium for Special Education
- Learning Disabilities Association of America
- National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities National Association of School Psychologists
- National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) National Center for Learning Disabilities
- National Center for Parent Leadership, Advocacy, and Community Empowerment (National PLACE) National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools
- National Disability Rights Network National Down Syndrome Congress National PTA
- School Social Work Association of America TASH
- Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (TED) The Advocacy Institute
- The Arc of the United States Tourette Association of America
Education Task Force Co-Chairs:
Annie Acosta, The Arc of the United States Acosta@thearc.org
Amanda Lowe, National Disability Rights Network firstname.lastname@example.org
Meghan Whittaker, National Center for Learning Disabilities email@example.com
Kim Musheno, Autism Society of America firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Kaloi, COPAA & Natl. Center for Special Education in Charter Schools email@example.com