School of Education


Doctor of Philosophy




Least Restrictive Environment, Special Education, Social Identity, Social Disability, Individual Education Plan


Education | Special Education and Teaching


The purpose of this phenomenological study is to describe the lived experiences of 6th grade students with learning disabilities educated in their least restrictive environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate sitting next to their non-disabled peers. Two theories guided this study, social identity theory and the social model of disability. Social identity (Tajfel, 1970) addresses individuals' self-worth and self-esteem based on the group they associate with and their rank in the group. Oliver's (1990) social model of disability addresses disability as a social problem rather than a personal problem. The central research question is as follows: what are the lived experiences of 6th grade students with learning disabilities educated in their LRE, specifically, the co-taught model. This study sought to understand how the social identity of students with learning disabilities are affected when teachers have lower academic expectations and when their non-disabled peers do not view students with disabilities as equal partners in the school community. The study utilized three data collections. The first data collection method was a visual representation. The second was an interview, which allowed 13 sixth grade students with learning disabilities to describe their perceptions of their learning experiences in their LRE. The third data collection was document analysis, which examined each participant's grades in their core content classes for the academic year 2021-2022. After reviewing all data, five themes and two subthemes emerged. The themes revealed the 13 participants did not perceive themselves any differently from their non-disabled peers; however, it is uncertain how the COVID-19 pandemic school closures have altered the lived experiences of SWLD.