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  • Law Office of Richard J Murphy, PLC

Make Sure Students’ LRE Rights Are Not Violated due to COVID-19

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

COVID-19 changes have made it more difficult for schools. But this is not an excuse to educate students in a more or less restrictive environment than stated on the IEP.

The Office of Special Education Programs confirmed this week that school districts must continue to follow the IDEA.

What is Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)?

LRE means that students with disabilities should be educated with their general education peers to the “maximum extent appropriate.” A student should be in the general education classroom unless their disability is so severe they cannot learn even in that setting even with extra help.

Every IEP explains when and why the student will not be in a general education class. This is part of the IEP’s placement decision.

What does LRE look like in different school settings?

Schools in Arizona are teaching students in-person, online, and a hybrid model of some online and some in-person. Each one of these options affects general education, so then special education needs adjustment.

No matter which learning model the student is in, the school must still provide instruction in the LRE from the IEP.

Here are 3 examples of illustrate how LRE violations could happen:

1. Assume the IEP requires the student receive all of his instruction in the general education setting with 30 minutes per day of special education services also provided in the general education classroom. The school cannot remove that student out of the general education setting to provide that instruction because that could be changing the student’s LRE.

If this student is receiving his general education instruction along with his peers in an online setting, that becomes the general education setting. So, likely when the main classroom instruction is completed and independent work is started, the special education teacher can provide the 30 minutes of special education at that time, perhaps in a virtual breakout room. This way the student is not missing the general education instruction with his peers.

The school is not permitted to change the students’ LRE by providing instruction to students with IEPs in a resource online setting because it is more convenient. Even with the COVID-19 changes, the student’s needs and IEP still determine the services and supports they receive. Any changes to the student’s LRE must be done as a result of an IEP team decision. Changes to the IEP can be done in a meeting or without a meeting only if the parent and the school agree to make the change.

2. Assume a student’s IEP requires that she receive her academic instruction (reading, writing and math) in a resource room setting with the remainder of the classes with her general education peers. In this LRE in an in-person setting, the student would physically go to the resource room to receive the instruction and not be with her general education peers. If the student is learning in a hybrid model – coming to school 2 days per week and in person the other 3 days – then the resource room instruction with other students on IEPs should be provided either in person or online.

The school would not be providing this student her LRE if they provided academic instruction to her in the general education class. This would be a less restrictive environment than the student needs.

3. If the school has agreed to provide compensatory education services to a student due to regression from the COVID-19 closures, the school must be sure not to change the student’s LRE.

For example, if a student is with general education peers for all classes except resource math and the school pulls the student out of P.E. to provide additional math services, the student may no longer be in the same LRE from the IEP. Compensatory education services should generally be provided either after school or during school break to avoid potential changes in LRE.

Classroom placement is based on the student needs. Inconvenience to the school does not matter in the decision making process.

If you are concerned about whether the school is providing instruction in the appropriate LRE, you should compare the instruction before COVID-19 to see if it has changed. If you think the school is not complying with the LRE requirements or otherwise not implementing the IEP, you could consult a special education attorney.

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