The least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has long been questioned as to whether it has fulfilled the original intent of the law. This advocacy brief provides an updated analysis of the flaws underlying the principle of LRE, a mandate that exists at the nexus of cultural beliefs about disability, the influence of the medical model on special education, and the misguided link between intensity of services and more restrictive environments. We review the origins of LRE; summarize research on the positive relationship between placement in general education and student outcomes; describe six flaws of LRE's grounding in the continuum model of educational placement that sanctions segregation; present data that illustrate little progress over time towards general education placement for students with intellectual disability, and outline some key court rulings about what constitutes the least restrictive environment. In summary, we suggest that segregation of students with intellectual disability results as much from the flawed underpinnings of the LRE principle itself as on the attitudes and practices of those who use LRE as a justification for segregation.

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