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Least Restrictive Environment:

What constitutes the least restrictive environment in which to educate Deaf students? 


In the comment section of
a former Special Educator writes:

"First time I haven't agreed w/ you on something. LRE can mean various things to hearing. As a former Sp Ed teacher, LRE meant the environment w/ the fewest restrictions in which the student can still function. So, for some classes that may mean a self-contained room, whereas in other classes, the student may be able to mainstream (w/ or w/o support)."

[Name removed to protect their privacy]


Response from William G. Vicars, EdD:

Hello ██████!
Vocabulary Expansion Series videos 44 through 46 were focused on signs that might be useful when discussing a Deaf Community related action alert such as the one sent out by the California Association for the Deaf jointly with the California Educators of the Deaf in spring of 2021 in regard to opposing (California) Senate Bill 692. (2021-2022 Regular Session).

I agree with you that, LRE can mean various things to Hearing people. The goal of the section of the video discussing LRE was to point out that:

1. In general Hearing people tend to think that mainstreaming (placement into regular classrooms) is the least restrictive environment.

2. In general, culturally Deaf people think that a Deaf School (or visual language environment) is the least restrictive environment.

Those special educators who have not yet internalized principles of Deaf Culture (in other words those who are Hearing with a capital "H") consider "fewest restrictions" (which is just another way of saying "least restrictions) as meaning to be taught "in a regular classroom."

Culturally Deaf adults (as well as Educators of the Deaf who have internalized Deaf culture) feel that sticking a Deaf student in the midst of Hearing students tends to be more restrictive than placing a Deaf student into a visual language focused education program (such as a Deaf School or similar program) where the student will be surrounded with students and teachers who know and use sign language.

While there are some enlightened Special Educators who have invested the time to understand the culturally Deaf perspective and have put in the effort to learn sign language, (bless and thank you to those who have done so), the action alert sent out by the vice president of the California Educators of the Deaf (in an email March 14, 2021) stated:

"LRE has historically been misapplied to Deaf and Hard of hearing students to put students in regular classrooms without adequate support or language access."
[Source: Sumner, Michelle (vice-president, Cal-Ed), (March 14, 2021) "Oppose SB692!," California Educators of the Deaf, action alert (email), see YouTube video ID C0Q0hFtX-FU for additional Information.]

Deaf and Hard of Hearing programs tend to be under pressure (put at risk of closure) from Special Education and Local Plan Administrators who mistakenly lean towards "total inclusion" as being the "least restrictive environment."

The difference in philosophy is further emphasized in an action alert video featuring Cal-Ed President Janette Duran-Aguirre and California Association of the Deaf president Kavita Pipalia in which Kavita points out that:

"Historically, in all the years of the LRE concept has taken Deaf and Hard of Hearing students from Sign language rich supported programs into regular mainstream classes, that deprived Deaf students from their previous visual language environment. LRE implies to be inclusive, but it is not the case for Deaf and Hard of Hearing students."
[Source: Kavita, Pipalia (2022) Oppose SB 692, California Association of the Deaf, YouTube channel, Source: Retrieved 2022-11-13 from ]

The above quote is generally accurate but is still just one interpretation. The signing used by Kavita includes (at the 53 second mark) the ASL sign often glossed as WRONG / MISTAKE / ACCIDENT (or similar labels). Thus her actual (signed) message could be considered even more d█mning of the historical misapplication of LRE toward Deaf students.

So, again, I see your point that LRE can mean various things to Hearing people – and thanks for sharing that comment.
My point remains that:

What Hearing people think is the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is often quite different from what Deaf people think is the Least Restrictive Environment.

Warm regards,
+ Bill
William G. Vicars, Ed.D.
ASL University (

The former Special Educator then commented:

Thank you.
I wasn’t aware of all the background. ...
I understand now.

Response from William G. Vicars, EdD

Oh hey, I'm glad you mentioned it because the topic is deep, ongoing, and needs to be brought up more often in discussion areas frequented by Hearing people who are learning about things that influence Deaf education and Deaf people in general. Many Hearing think of a "Deaf School" as a restrictive place. (The opposite is true though from the Deaf perspective). One of the signs (the oldest and most cherished version IMHO amongst older Deaf and many younger as well) uses an "I" hand (or two "I" hands depending on the version) to specifically refer to a state-run residential school for the Deaf. That sign literally comes from the concept of "institution" as in "institutionalized" from back in the days when it amounted to sending one's (Deaf or other "issue") child to be hidden away from society in a prison like environment. Hearing people thus have a type of "dread" in regard to the thought of placing a Deaf child in an "institution."

The funny / cool / crazy thing about it though is that such "institutions" (residential state schools for the Deaf) became prized in the Deaf Community as being the equivalent of exclusive, private, sought-out boarding schools are for the children of upper class society. Many Deaf children actually dreaded going home for holidays and/or weekends because "home" was the more restrictive place in terms of communication. At school everyone knows sign language -- at home -- it is often a communication desert (language deprivation) and thus boring and depressing.

Deaf school = freedom to communicate (thrive socially)
Public school = alone in the crowd (in effect: restrictive )
Home = sitting at a dinner table filled with conversation to which you little or no access (language deprivation). *

* The exceptions are the approximately one out of ten or so moms (and considerably fewer dads) who make the effort to learn sign language.






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