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Least Restrictive Environment

I kept a digital journal in college in the days before blogs. Upon graduation, I printed the journal pages and put them in a binder along with undergraduate notes and artifacts. The cover of the binder is decorated with some of my favorite doodles and glimpses of my course notes. Looking through it the other day, a note popped out at me from my Introduction to Exceptionalities class:

LRE = Least Restrictive Environment > shouldn’t this include teachers too?

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is a term that essentially means students with disabilities should receive an education that is as similar as possible to peers without disabilities. Generally used in special education settings as a legal concern, we use this concept to decide how students should receive services over time.

The note made me think about the concept of least restrictive environment for ALL students in ALL situations. Rules, boundaries, expectations, and requirements include restrictions – things we prevent kids from doing. To what extent are our schools providing students with environments that have the least restrictions possible? For example, my kids told me recently they are not allowed to talk to each other during breakfast at school. I can hypothesize a number of reasons why this may be the case, but I wonder if the authorities at their school ever consideredthe least restrictive breakfast environment when they made this rule?

Now let’s extend this line of thinking to classroom teachers. Do we provide them with the least restrictive environment in which they are allowed to do their work? (Did anyone roll their eyes when they read this question?) When leaders and legislators make rules and laws that affect educators, do they consider the extent to which they are restricting teachers from teaching?

In addition, are administrators operating in the least restrictive environment? How might the leadership of a district make decisions for building-level leaders or departments using an LRE lens? This is more than just a thought experiment – it’s a call to action and a frame for creating policy, procedures, and programs.

Are you teaching and learning in the least restrictive environment? Are you creating the least restrictive environment for the people you serve? What one small change can you make in the new year, for yourself or others, using this frame?

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