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What is Special Education?  

What is Special Education?

Special education is in place to provide additional services, support, programs, specialized placements or environments to ensure that all students' educational needs are provided for.  Special education is provided to qualifying students at no cost to the parents.  There are many students who have special learning needs and these needs are addressed through special education.  The range of special education support will vary based on need and educational jurisdictions.  In the US, the governing law is:  Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Typically, the types of exceptionalities/disabilities will be clearly identified in the jurisdiction's law surrounding special education.  Students qualifying for special education support have needs that will often require support that goes beyond what is normally offered or received in the regular school/classroom setting.

Who receives special education services?

Special education services are available to any students with a mental, physical or emotional impairment which adversely affects his or her educational performance. 

How do I know if my child is eligible for special education services?

The eligibility of a student for special education and related services is based on a comprehensive evaluation process. That process includes cassessments, information based on how well the student understands the curriculum, observation reports by educational professionals, teacher information, information provided by parents, and other relevant information.

The parents of the student, the student’s teacher, the school administrator, a team of qualified special education professionals and other professionals who work with the student participate in the evaluation process to determine whether the student has a disability and is in need of special education and related services. Related services include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.

The determination of whether a student may have a disability is made by the student’s parents and a team of qualified professionals which may include:

  • a school administrator, the student’s teacher, or a regular classroom teacher qualified to teach a student of his or her age if the student does not have a regular teacher; or, for a student of less than school age, an individual qualified by the school system to teach a student of his or her age;
  • a special educator; a school system representative;
  • and at least one person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, or physical therapist.

How are special education services provided:

A child suspected of needing special education support will usually be referred to the special education committee at the school.  Parents, teachers or both can make referrals for special education.  Parents should have any necessary information/documentation from community professionals, doctors, external agencies, etc and inform the school of the child's disabilities if they are known prior to attending school.  The child who is being considered for special education services will often receive assessment(s), evaluations, or psychological testing to determine if they qualify to receive special education programming/supports.  Prior to conducting any type of assessment/testing, the parent will need to sign consent forms.

Once the child qualifies for additional support, an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is then developed for the child.  IEP's will include goals, objectives, activities and any additional supports needed to ensure the child reaches his/her maximum educational potential.

What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?

Commonly referred to as an IEP, an individualized education program is a written plan that is designed for any student who receives special education and related services. IEPs are required for every special education student under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. The IEP describes the goals that are set for the student over the course of the school year and spells out any special supports needed to help achieve those goals. Parents are an important part of the IEP process.

What is the difference between an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a Section 504 Plan?

Both students with IEP’s and students with 504 plans have a documented disability or impairment. For students with an IEP, their disability has a significant educational impact, and requires the provision of direct specialized instruction, in addition to supplementary aids and services. Students with 504 plans have a documented impairment which substantially limits their ability to perform a major life activity. The major life activity may or may not be directly related to learning (i.e., a physical impairment that impacts mobility, but not learning). Students with 504 plans require targeted accommodations so they are able to access their educational program in the same manner their non-disabled peers do. Both processes require an evaluation by a duly constituted problem solving team.

How do I know when or if my child no longer requires special education services?

In time, a student may no longer need special education services and may exit from a special education program. The IEP team must conduct an evaluation before determining that a student no longer requires special education services.

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