School of Education News

UW-Madison's Underwood examines ‘defining the least restrictive environment’

October 26, 2018

In her latest "Under the Law" column for Phi Delta Kappan magazine, UW-Madison's Julie Underwood takes a look at how circuit courts have varied in their interpretations of the legal standard for identifying the best classroom placement for a child with disabilities. 

Underwood is the Susan Engeleiter Professor of Education Law, Policy and Practice, and the former dean of the School of Education.

Writes Underwood: “One of the primary principles of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the requirement to provide services to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). In the early years of IDEA, this was referred to as mainstreaming; today, the more common term is inclusion. But neither of these terms appear in the federal legislation; rather, they are the terms of practice used to implement the LRE requirement.”

Underwood goes on to explain how different courts have offered differing interpretations of the legal requirement.

“Given how much the different circuits vary in their standards regarding LRE,” Underwood write, “it’s unclear whether another court would have applied different standards and come to a different conclusion. And so it is important for districts across the country to be attentive to how these cases are being decided in their own circuits until a case that addresses the contradictions in standards reaches the Supreme Court.” 

Make sure and check out all the details by reading Underwood’s full column on this Phi Delta Kappan web page.

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