Exceptional Children's FAQs

Question: What is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)?

Answer: According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the LEA must ensure that — to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with children who are non-disabled

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.

Placement decisions must be based on a child’s unique needs and IEP, not on administrative convenience, disability/program label, or allocation of funds. Special education is not a place. It’s a set of services and supports.

LRE is determined at least annually for each child based on his or her IEP

The opening question when discussing LRE for a student is:

Given the age and assigned grade level of the child, and considering ALL of the general education opportunities this child would have if he/she were NOT a child with a disability, how can this child participate and progress in regular classes and nonacademic settings with the use of supplementary aids and services?

The LRE consideration on the continuum always begins in the regular education classroom and must be considered for the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities. LRE should always be as close as possible to the child’s home.

(The Least Restrictive Environment, Training PPT, NC-DPI Exceptional Children Division, 2013)

Question: What is the continuum of services?

Answer: The continuum of services is a range of services that must be available to students with disabilities so they can be served in the least restrictive environment. Each LEA must have a continuum of alternative placements to meet the needs of students with disabilities for special education and related services. The continuum refers to the entire spectrum of placements where a student’s special education program can be implemented.

A child with a disability may not be removed from education in age-appropriate regular classrooms solely because of needed modifications in the general education curriculum.

(The Least Restrictive Environment, Training PPT, NC-DPI Exceptional Children Division, 2013)

Question: What do the terms “mainstreaming,” “integration,” “full inclusion” and “reverse mainstreaming” mean?

Answer: None of these terms appears or is defined in federal or state statutes. They are terms that have been developed by educators to describe various ways of meeting the LRE requirements of special education law. The definitions below are the most commonly used.

Mainstreaming refers to the placement of a student with disabilities into ongoing activities of regular classrooms so that the child receives education with nondisabled peers — even if special education staff must provide supplementary resource services. Integration includes mainstreaming into regular classes and access to, inclusion, and participation in the activities of the total school environment.

Integration combines placement in public schools with ongoing structured and non-structured opportunities to interact with nondisabled, age-appropriate peers. A student with severe disabilities should be able to participate in many general school activities — such as lunch, assemblies, clubs, dances or recess. The student should also be able to participate in selected activities in regular classes — such as art, music, or computers. The student should also be able to participate in regular academic subjects in regular classes if appropriate curriculum modifications are made, and adequate support is provided. The student should be able to use the same facilities as nondisabled students— including hallways, restrooms, libraries, cafeterias and gymnasiums. Integration can refer to the integration of a special education student into a regular education classroom in the same sense as in “mainstreaming.” However, “integration” also refers to the placement of students in special education classes located on integrated school sites (that is, sites that have both special and regular education classes). An “integrated” placement includes systematic efforts to maximize interaction between the student with disabilities and nondisabled peers.

Full inclusion refers to the total integration of a student with disabilities into the regular education program — with special support. In full inclusion, the student’s primary placement is in the regular education class. The student has no additional assignment to any special class for students with disabilities. Thus, the student with disabilities is actually a member of the regular education class. She is not being integrated or mainstreamed into the regular education class from a special day class. The student need not be in the class 100% of the time, but can leave the class to receive supplementary services such as speech or physical therapy.

Reverse Mainstreaming refers to the practice of giving opportunities to interact with nondisabled peers to a student who is placed in a self-contained or segregated classroom (or school) or who lives and attends school at a state hospital. It brings nondisabled students to a segregated site or to state hospital classrooms for periods of time to work with or tutor students with disabilities. School districts should not attempt to fulfill the LRE mandate by using reverse mainstreaming exclusively. They should make systematic efforts to get students with disabilities out of special classrooms and into the school’s integrated environments. Reverse Mainstreaming alone is an artificial means of integration. The Individual Education Program (IEP) team should consider placements that encourage more natural interaction with nondisabled peers

SPECIAL EDUCATION RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES Chapter 7 Information on Least Restrictive Environment (http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/504001Ch07.pdf

Question: What does “educational setting” mean?

Answer: Students with disabilities most can receive special education in one of the following educational settings based on the least restrictive environment as determined by the student’s IEP team:

1. Regular Setting: Students with disabilities who receive the majority of their education program, 80% or more of the day, with non-disabled peers.

2. Resource Setting: Students with disabilities who receive general education 40% - 79% of the day with non-disabled peers.

3. Separate Setting: Students with disabilities who receive general education 39% or less of the day with non-disabled peers. This does not include students who receive their education at public or private separate day centers or residential facilities.

4. Separate School: Students with disabilities who require a specially designed program of an intensive level for behavioral health and/or educational issues. Placement in a public or private separate school is determined by an IEP team.

5. Residential Facility: Students with disabilities, who require a more intensive level of service, need treatment for disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, depression, bipolar, ADHD, or specific educational issues. These facilities are clinically focused and primarily provide behavior management and treatment for students with serious emotional and/or behavioral issues. Placement in a residential facility is determined by an IEP team.

6. Home/Hospital: Students with disabilities placed Home/Hospital on the continuum of services within their IEPs have the opportunity to receive short-term educational services in the home or a designated location. Home/Hospital Service Delivery is determined by the IEP team on the basis of: (1) a documented Medical Issues (2) a documented Behavioral Issues (3) as a result of a Long-Term Suspension or (4) as a result of a series of short-term suspensions that have exceeded a total of 10 days. Home/Hospital Educational Services are temporary with the goal of providing support until the student can successfully return to school. Home/Hospital Instruction does not duplicate classroom instruction.

Preschoolers with disabilities most can receive special education in one of the following educational settings:

  1. Home – Not RECP or SEP 
  2. RECP 10 hours or more – other location 
  3. RECP 10 hours or more 
  4. RECP less than 10 hours 
  5. RECP less than 10 hours – other location 
  6. SEP Residential Facility 
  7. SEP Separate Class 
  8. RECP: Regular Education Childhood Program 
  9. SEP: Separate 

*RECP – Regular Early Childhood Program (e.g. Head Start, NC-PK, Daycare)

Question: What is the role of the Individual Education Program (IEP) team in developing the IEP?

Answer: The Individual Education Program team is responsible for developing, reviewing and revising the IEP document after a child has been determined eligible for special education services. The IEP team talks about the child’s needs and write the student’s IEP. Parents and the student (when appropriate) are part of the team. The child begins to receive services as soon as possible after the IEP is written and this consent is given. The child’s IEP is reviewed by the IEP team at least once a year, or more often if the parents or school ask for a review. If necessary, the IEP is revised. Parents, as team members, must be invited to attend these meetings. Parents can make suggestions for changes, can agree or disagree with the IEP goals, and agree or disagree with the placement. If parents do not agree with the IEP and placement, they may discuss their concerns with other members of the IEP team and try to work out an agreement. There are several options, including additional testing, an independent evaluation, or asking for mediation or a due process hearing. They may also file a complaint with the state education agency. At least every three years a child’s eligibility for special education services must be revisited through the re-evaluation process. 

Question: What is the membership of the Individual Education Program (IEP) team?

Answer: The term “IEP team” means a group of individuals composed of:

  • The parents of a child with a disability; 
  • Not less than one regular education teacher of such child (if the child is, or may be, participating in the regular education environment) 
  •  Not less than one special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than one special education provider of such child 
  • A representative of the local education agency (LEA) who is: qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities; knowledgeable about the general education curriculum; and knowledgeable about the availability of resources of the LEA 
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, who may be a member of the team described above 
  • At the discretion of the parent or the agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate 
  • Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability

Question: What EC services can preschool students with disabilities receive?

Answer:  Under Section 619 of Part B of IDEA, eligible children 3, 4, and 5 years of age have the same protections under IDEA as school – age children. Section 619 of Part B of IDEA, guarantees a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities age three through five. Preschool children with disabilities are entitled to Special Education and Related Services in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The IEP team will determine services based on the student’s needs and outline these services in the IEP. Services can be delivered in a general preschool school, child care, or Head Start setting or in a combination of these settings with special education. As much as possible, preschool children with disabilities need to spend time in early childhood settings in order to learn the “give and take” of play, to hear normal spoken language and to learn pre-reading and other cognitive learning skills presented in the regular preschool curriculum. Preschool-age children with disabilities are first and foremost children and need to be with their same age peers. Each child’s team must take the individual child’s needs into account when deciding on the best educational environment.

Question: What are related services?

Answer: The purpose of a related service is to assist the student in benefiting from special education. Students must first have a primary area of eligibility before accessing related services. Related services are not stand alone services. When determining whether or not a student requires related services the IEP team must discuss whether or not the student can make benefit from his or her special education goals without the support of the related service. Students do not have to meet “eligibility requirements” for a related service. Before accessing related services the student has already been determined eligible for special education. He or she is considered eligible for related services if these services are needed for the student to benefit from special education. Even though test scores do not determine eligibility for related services the team may consider scores and performance on speech/language evaluations to assist in determining if the child has a disorder in speech. Speech is one of the 14 areas of eligibility. In order to be considered eligible for speech language services students must meet the eligibility guidelines as defined in the Policies Governing Services for Students with Disabilities - NC 1503-2.5 (12). Speech can also be a related service for students who are identified in other eligibility areas and if they require speech/language services in order to benefit from special education. To sum it up, related services must be needed to assist the student in benefiting from special education goals. Since related services are tied to the special education goals in this way, the IEP team must consider the primary area of eligibility and the goals of the IEP when determining the need for related services. Related services may be added or deleted only through the reevaluation process.