Charter Schools and LRE: Thinking Outside the Box

When considering transition needs for students with disabilities, the entire picture needs consideration. Here is a post about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) especially written for charter schools which face many areas for “thinking outside the box”.

by Deanna L. Taylor


An abbreviated version of this article is published in the spring 2012 issue of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools magazine Charterology.


ImageCharter schools face many challenges in special education. Placing a student in their Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE, is one of those challenges. While charter schools often lack access to some of the resources available to their larger district counterparts, they also have the ability to be more creative and to “think outside the box”, particularly since LRE is not a “one size fits all” approach to educating students with disabilities.

Understanding the law:

 Read moreThe Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that:

Each public agency must ensure that—

(i) To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are non-disabled; and

(ii) Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. [§300.114(a]

The placement determined by the student’s IEP team should include this continuum of placement alternatives:

  • Instruction in regular classes (via Direct or Indirect Services)
  • Special classes
  • Special schools
  • Home instruction
  • Instruction in hospital and institutions

Other key points:

  • The continuum must also make provision for supplementary services such as resource room or itinerant instruction, to be provided in conjunction with regular class placement
  • The discussion of LRE should begin at regular classes but the practical placement decision does not have to begin there.
  • The LRE becomes whatever setting school officials and parents agree should be used to implement the IEP designed for the student.
  • LRE changes for each student (not always the regular education classroom)
  • The IEP team must consider where the special education services will be delivered. This decision is made on an individual basis by the team and cannot be based on a school philosophy, such as “full inclusion”
  • Regardless of the LRE, the student must be making progress in accordance with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). If a student is not making progress, the IEP team must meet to consider a more restrictive environment to allow for progress to be made.

– List provided by Leah Voorhies (Special Education Compliance Coordinator, Utah State Office of Education) and Amy Trombetti (Special Education Consultant)

Thinking outside the box when considering a student’s LRE:


Co-teaching is a practice that can prove quite effective in the general education classroom in a variety of models, including special education teachers, general education teachers, and well-trained paraprofessionals working together to deliver services in the general education setting.

Co-teaching is an appropriate service delivery approach for students with disabilities who can benefit from general education curriculum if given appropriate supports. Teachers and related service professionals who are flexible and have good judgment are likely to be successful in this role. Co-teachers need preparation, administrative support, and opportunities to nurture their collaborative relationships. Co-teaching programs should be planned and implemented systematically. Deliberate and ongoing communication among everyone involved is essential.” (Focus on Exceptional Children. Vol. 28 (3), 1995. Cook and Friend, authors.

Caywood and Fordyce (2006) found that when general and special education co-teachers incorporated assistive technology into a restructured curriculum, peer assistance, one-on-one tutorials, cooperative group learning, activity-based instruction with supports through co-teaching, and systematic paraprofessional instruction in differentiated instruction so as to decrease student dependence on paraprofessionals, students with autism were successfully included in the co-taught high school language arts classrooms. Mahoney found that in addition to meeting educational needs, ‘for special education students, being part of the large class meant making new friends.’” (A Guide to Co-Teaching, 2nd edition, Villa, Thousand, and Nevin, 2008)

Blackorby et al. (2005) reported on a comprehensive study of 11,000 students in the United States, which showed that students with disabilities who spend more time in general education classrooms are absent less, perform closer to grade level than their peers in pullout settings, and have higher achievement test scores…. overall, the study confirmed that students with disabilities in general education settings academically outperformed their peers who were educated in segregated settings when standards-based assessment were used.”(Villa, Thousand, and Nevin, 2008

Supplemental support and interventions can be provided for students deemed to need such support beyond the core subjects. Careful planning and systematic implementation are imperative to the success of this support, which can be delivered in a variety of ways, including:

  1. Additional support class or lab

–a period during the day for supported study made effective by direct connections with classroom teachers and instruction

–an extra period in the week for more instruction and time on task in a particular subject

–a reading class where students reading below grade level receive coaching in reading the content materials from their regular instruction

2. One-on-one tutoring sessions – before or after school, during lunch or recess or other arranged times.

3. Peer tutoring: classwide peer tutors or peer tutors for specific subjects such as reading.

Research shows that Classwide Peer Tutoring works for all students, including students who have problems paying attention, problems learning, and problems with emotions and behavior. It even helps students who learn without problems. Classwide Peer Tutoring is very helpful for students who are “at risk” and for students whose parents and teachers worry that they will start to have problems in school.

(Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice)

.schools can train their own students to deliver effective tutoring in reading to younger peers. Kids as Reading Helpers: A Peer Tutor Training Manual is a complete package for training peer reading tutors. Peer tutoring answers the nagging problem of delivering effective reading support to the many struggling young readers in our schools. Furthermore, peer tutoring programs can improve the reading skills of tutors as well as tutees (Ehly, 1986) and – in some studies-have been shown to build tutor’s social skills as well (Garcia-Vazquez & Ehly, 1995). Young children tend to find the opportunity to read aloud to an older peer tutor to be quite reinforcing, adding a motivational component to this intervention.

(“Kids as Reading Helpers: A Peer Tutoring Manual”, Intervention Central)

4. Peer buddy system – where a trained peer without a disability assists the student with a disability directly in the core class. This can be a very effective strategy for supporting a student in core curriculum. A Peer Buddy program was implemented at City Academy in 2009, after considerable study of peer tutoring models. The program was successful and several students were able to remain in the core subjects thanks to their peer buddies.

‘Parents whose children have peer buddies in their general education classes report that their children experience more enthusiasm for school, feel more a part of the community inside and outside of school, and improve their academic performance and sense of self-esteem’ (Garrick, Duhaney, & Salend, 2000).

(eSSENTIAL EDUCATOR: Inclusion and Peer Buddies: Making the Exception the Norm,

Deanna Taylor, 2010,


The continued development of technology presents viable options that can extend the continuum of placements for LRE as well as add to potential support interventions.

1. Assistive technology can be considered by the IEP team in any number of areas, including, but not limited to, handwriting, communication, organization, mobility, seating/position. An assistive technology evaluation may need to be conducted to determine the precise needs of the student. Assistive technology enables children with disabilities to participate more fully in all aspects of life (home, school, and community) and helps them access their right to a free appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment.

(National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities)

    1. Instruction in accredited online courses provides another technology option when considering a student’s LRE. online courses. The implications for students with disabilities are such that, coupled with a learning coach, a student’s LRE could include any portion of a day engaged in online learning. City Academy, for example, uses a variety of such courses for students who are in need of core content but whose LRE has been determined by the IEP team to be in a setting different from the regular general education classroom. Licensed teachers provide the content and syllabus while Learning Coaches provide the support needed.
    2. Adaptive software and other individualized software programs can be used during additional study and support classes (and at home for additional practice) to really target and support individual student learning progress. For example ALEKS “uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn’t know in a course. ALEKS then instructs the student on the topics she is most ready to learn. As a student works through a course, ALEKS periodically reassesses the student to ensure that topics learned are also retained. “ (

UTAH WRITE provides grade-appropriate tutorials, allows students to receive instant targeted feedback on their work, and provides opportunity for tracking practice test scores to monitor improvement in writing skills.

KHAN ACADEMY is a free online program with a library of over 2800 videos in just about every subject from K-12. Students and parents can view videos at home to supplement work in school subjects and teachers can set up classes with specific areas and goals for each student to provide additional support and monitor progress.


Some charter schools may consider contracting with other charter schools or larger school districts in which the charter schools reside to provide an environment that best meets the student’s needs. It is important to establish a positive on-going relationship with potential partners for inter-district collaboration to work effectively. Issues to consider when collaborating would be transportation, time, and scheduling team meetings with all stakeholders in the student’s IEP.

When considering the unique needs of students with disabilities, the IEP team must consider all options to best provide a FAPE in the student’s LRE. While charter school special education programs have some degree of flexibility in methodologies and strategies for educating students with disabilities, they also face unique challenges in meeting the requirements of federal and state laws. A collaborative and creative approach, involving all stakeholders – students, teachers, administrators, parents, related service providers and others – is necessary to determine the best environment for students, with appropriate supports, and the highest quality instruction, driven by data based decision-making, to help students move forward in their educational career alongside their non-disabled peers.

Some helpful resources

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act


Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice –

Council for Exceptional Children –

National Dissemination Center for Children With Disabilities (NICHCY) – LRE Starter Kit


Peer Buddy Program Example:

Inclusion and Peer Buddies: Making the Exception the Norm

Online resources:

Statewide Public Education Online, Utah State Office of Education-

Classwide Peer Tutoring Program (Promising Practices Network) –

Intervention Central –





Deanna Taylor is the Director of Educational Support Services at City Academy. She serves as the Charter School Representative Member on the Utah CSPD Consortium for Special Education Board, and is a Co-Coordinator of the Charter School Special Education Directors group. Deanna holds  M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction and is currently in a Masters Degree Program at Utah State University in Special Education with a focus on Transition.

City Academy Director Dr. Sonia Woodbury contributed to this article.

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