Importance of Natural Resources

Legal Issues in Deaf Education: Least Restrictive Environment by M. Natasha Kordus, Ph.D.

Hi. Today I will discuss the legal concept
of Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE for short First I am going to discuss the concept of LRE in general and then I will discuss how
this concept applies to Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. From legal perspective, LRE means
that after the IEP team considered a child’s individual educational needs, the child is
placed with non disabled students. At its most basic level, “LRE”
means that if an educational program can meet peers. Therefore, each school must ensure
two things: (i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children
with disabilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and
(ii) Special classes, or separate schooling from the regular educational environment occurs
only if the disability is so severe that education in regular classes cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
According to IDEA’s LRE Provisions (caption: IDEA LRE Provision [CFR 300.114(a)]) when
discussing LRE, the IEP team should consider four things:
• How much time is it appropriate for the individual child to be in the mainstream? • Is the student with a disability making progress in the regular classes?
Remember, there is no specific standard / placement location identified by the law. This is the
IEP team’s decision. Last has the IEP team considered all possible
placements. Sometimes the IEP team assumes that LRE
is tied to the local program. In actuality, LRE is not place-specific. It is entirely
placed on the needs of the child. By law when discussing the educational needs of the
child, the IEP team should be presented with and discuss all possible placement options.
Now the concept of LRE when applied to Deaf and Hard of Hearing children can be very challenging.
Often the IEP team follows the same pattern when considering LRE. First they consider local
programs. Then they move on to a local program that has additional support like interpreters
etc. If that is not effective, they move on to a local program with a self-contained classroom where they are with other children with disabilities. Finally, they will send the student to a School for the Deaf. But here is the question, is this process
effective? In all honesty, no. According to Federal Register legal interpretation
of LRE applied to Deaf and Hard of Hearing students is often misapplied and misinterpreted.
Federal interpretation says that the unique communication needs of Deaf and Hard of Hearing
students must be addressed when discussing LRE. LRE must provide an educational setting
that meets the child’s needs. Historically placement options are considered
over time, at the annual IEP meeting or even every few years. All the while losing precious
educational opportunities for the child. In truth, this process does not fit the needs
of Deaf and Hard of Hearing students. Access to communication is a key factor when considering
LRE. Per law the IEP team should consider the Deaf or Hard of Hearing student’s right
to direct communication. Hmm, direct communication. What does this mean? How is that defined?
This should be based on current assessment, data, and observations. For some students
“direct communication” means through the use of American Sign Language without an interpreter.
For others it means spoken language with signed support. Some will also use additional technology
or tools to access communication. The Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights (and Special Factors
[CFR 300.324(a)(2)(iv)]) state that the IEP team should consider:
1. the deaf or hard of hearing child’s language and communication needs
2. providing opportunities for direct communication with peers and professional personnel in the
child’s own language 3. making sure that programming meets the
academic level of the child and provides for a full range of needs
4.all programming provides opportunities for direct instruction in the child’s language
and communication mode. Now, not all Deaf and Hard of Hearing children
communicate in the same way. The point is that the IEP team is legally obligated to
identify the child’s language and combine that with the educational needs
of the child and consider all program options and LRE can be determined.

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