Weakley Educators Gain Info on LRE

Weakley Educators Challenged to Provide Students with Least Restrictive Environments
Posted on 01/16/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Weakley Educators Challenged to Provide Students  with Least Restrictive EnvironmentsSpecial education teachers, principals and administrators spent a half day learning about Least Restrictive Environments (LRE) and how to provide educational experiences that are accessible, meaningful, and engaging.

The Tennessee Department of Education’s Alison Gauld, Low Incidence and Autism Coordinator, and Dana Johnson, IDEA Specialist, presented first to those working with pre-K through 5th grade and then in the afternoon turned their attention to faculty working with 6th through 12th grades.
To set the stage, Gauld introduced a Jenga-based illustration to help focus attention on the kind of foundations that are sometimes offered students with special needs. Participants were told to build the highest tower using the game’s small wooden blocks without having any blocks fall. Some participants attempted to fulfill the instructions by using a firm foundation that was already provided. Others found their foundation to be lacking and were having to try and push pieces into a questionable base.

Gauld pointed out that educators charged with creating Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students are often challenged to do so despite weak foundations, a faulty base or “an exclusionary mentality” of others.

Gauld further unpacked the concept explaining the exclusionary mindset sometimes translates into requiring students to have prerequisite skills before they can be considered for general education; or offering what is essentially deficit programming such as “As soon as the student can do ____, they can join us.”; or immediately assigning the student to a program; or suggesting trial or temporary placements -- “We’ll try the student for ten minutes in the general education classroom but if it doesn’t work she will go back.”

“Like Jenga tiles being stuck into a tower rather than having a strong foundation, we often are saying ‘if you don’t fit, you don’t belong,’” she explained.

“LRE is one of the many important responsibilities and decisions made by a student’s Individualized Education Plan,” she noted. “Crafting a thoughtful plan for the Least Restrictive Environment is what makes special ed special. We get to do what we wish we could do for everyone.”
To move toward an inclusive mindset means addressing that “there’s always an impact,” she said. She pointed to a variety of implications including access and/or participation within standards-based instruction, interest-based instruction, peer groups, field trips, community experiences, and extra-curricular activities.

“We need to be honest about it. No matter where we end up with the LRE, there will be an impact. We need to say it, own it and determine what that will mean. Own it. And say it during the IEP. So that everyone knows,” she said of the IEP meeting that involves a team addressing the needs of the student.

Weakley County Director of Special Education Deborah Perkins who invited the duo to provide the training said the IEP meeting where LREs are determined includes parents, the general education teacher, the special education teacher, principal, any specialist for related services needed such as speech, physical therapy, etc.; and the interpreter of results. Options that may be determined as the least restrictive environment can be providing for consultations or intervention services, placing the student in the general education or an intervention in a special ed setting.

“LRE is fluid,” Perkins added, noting that the IEP meetings are required once a year but may happen more frequently depending on the student. “Today’s decision may change in six months, and that’s ok if that is what the student needs.”

Presently, Weakley County Schools serve students with special needs on all eleven campuses.

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