School Districts, in both New Jersey and New York, must provide a student with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
Generally, a student should be educated in the least restrictive environment. This means that the less restrictive program environments should be explored by school districts and parents before placement are made in more restrictive programs. To the greatest extent possible, students should be educated with children who are not disabled, also known as typical peers. The next spectrum of education would be in special classes, pull out programs or with supplementary aids and services. Next, alternative placements, should the student require the same to receive an appropriate education, would be day school settings or residential school settings. The most restrictive environment, or residential school settings, are explored in the most extreme cases and when no other alternatives are available. Not only does least restrictive environment include the type of program the student attends but where the student attends the program. This means that programs should be as close to a student’s home as is possible.
Districts often use the LRE argument to combat a parent’s request for their child’s placement in an out of district or residential school. But, schools are not required to place children in schools with typical peers. Districts are required to provide students with an appropriate program. To be the LRE a program must be appropriate. If your child cannot be appropriately educated in a public school program, then by definition that public school program cannot be the LRE. Therefore, parents and district must then look to a placement outside of the public school system which could be an out of district day school or residential school.
The Third Circuit (New Jersey) has provided guidance for Least Restrictive Environment under the IDEA. Here, “the least restrictive environment is the one that, to the greatest extent possible, satisfactorily educates disabled children together with children who are not disabled, in the same school the disabled child would attend if the child were not disabled.” N.R. v. Kingwood Twp. 205 F.3d 572 (3d. Cir. 2000).