What is LRE in Special Education?

LRE stands for Least Restrictive Environment. It’s a federal law that says every student has the right to be in the least restrictive environment possible. That means that schools must provide the services and supports a student needs in the least restrictive (or most inclusive) setting possible.

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LRE Basics

LRE stands for Least Restrictive Environment. In special education, the LRE is the environment in which a student with a disability receives the majority of their instruction and related services. The LRE is intended to be the most inclusive setting possible, while still providing the student with the specialized instruction and support they need to make progress.

Define LRE

LRE stands for “Least Restrictive Environment.” The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools provide disabled students with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). In other words, every child has a right to be educated alongside his or her nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible.

The LRE is based on the principle that all children, regardless of their disability, should be educated in an inclusive setting with nondisabled children whenever possible. There are a number of factors that must be considered when determining the LRE for a particular student, including the student’s academic, social, and emotional needs.

The LRE may also be referred to as the “mainstream” or the “inclusive classroom.”

LRE in the IEP

In every IEP, there must be a statement of the student’s placement. The placement is where the student will spend the majority of his or her school day. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that the student’s placement be the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The LRE is the setting that is closest to a regular classroom and that meets the student’s needs. In order for a student to be placed in the LRE, he or she must first be determined eligible for special education services. Once eligible, an IEP team, which includes the student’s parent or guardian, will meet to determine what services the student needs and what setting would be the most appropriate.

The IDEA includes a continuum of possible placements so that students can receive needed services while remaining in their LRE:
-Regular classroom with resource teacher support
-Regular classroom with paraprofessional support
-Special class in a self-contained setting
-Special class in a general education school
-Homebound or hospital instruction
-Instruction in an independent living facility
-Some form of out-of-district placement

LRE Options

There are three primary options for students with disabilities receiving special education services, which are determined by the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. The three options are: general education classes with supports, special education classes, and homebound or hospital instruction.


Inclusion is full participation of students with disabilities in regular education classrooms and social activities. Students are placed in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE), which is the least segregated placement that meets their needs. When determining inclusion, schools also consider the benefit the student will receive from being around nondisabled peers.

Resource Room

The resource room is a co-teaching model where the special education teacher and general education teacher team teach in the general education classroom. The Resource Room provides supplementary instruction to small groups of 2-6 students with disabilities who are having difficulty meeting grade level standards in one or more academic areas. This model provides an opportunity for direct, explicit instruction and practice of skills before returning to the general education classroom.

Self-Contained Classroom

A self-contained class is a type of special education classroom where all students have been identified as having similar types of disabilities. The students in a self-contained class typically spend the majority of the school day together in one room with one teacher and one aide. These classes are often used for students with moderate to severe disabilities who benefit from a smaller, more structured learning environment.

Determining LRE

The first and foremost step in determining the least restrictive environment (LRE) is to look at the student’s individualized education program (IEP). The IEP is what provides the basis and framework for LRE determination.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team

The IEP team is responsible for determining the least restrictive environment (LRE) for each student with an IEP. The team includes the student’s parents or guardians, at least one regular education teacher (if the student is or may be participating in the regular education environment), at least one special education teacher or provider, a school district representative who is qualified to provide or supervise specially designed instruction, and when appropriate, the student. Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise about the student, including related service providers and outside agency personnel, may be invited to attend part or all of the meeting by the parent or school district.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is defined in federal special education law as “the educational setting that is most similar to the general education setting in which students without disabilities are educated” (34 CFR 300.114). The LRE must be determined on an individual basis for each student with a disability.

The LRE is based on the individual needs of the student and must be determined on a case-by-case basis. When making the determination, school districts must consider the continuum of alternative placements listed in federal law, which include:

regular classes,
special classes,
special schools,
homebound or hospital placements, and
residential placements.

The least restrictive environment is the one in which a child receives instruction with children who do not have disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate.

LRE and Inclusion

Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE, is a federal mandate that requires schools to place students with disabilities in the “least restrictive” setting possible. This means that, to the greatest extent possible, students with disabilities should be educated with their nondisabled peers. LRE is an important concept in special education because it provides a framework for determining the best educational placement for students with disabilities.

Inclusion in the LRE

Inclusion in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is a general education classroom with full-time support from a special education teacher. The LRE is the setting in which a student with disabilities can be educated with nondisabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate. This is based on the premise that all children, regardless of abilities, should be educated together in regular classrooms to the maximum extent possible.

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