Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Special Education Services in U.S. Public Schools, Part 1

United States public schools are those which are funded by the federal government, the state and often your local taxes. These schools are all held to the Federal Legislation called IDEA or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. In addition to IDEA, public schools are also held to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Act was established to ensure that individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in the United States.

What this really means
All children with known or suspected disabilities qualify for special education testing in United States Public schools. This qualification stands regardless of a students grades or academic achievement. Furthermore, IDEA also includes a component called “Child Find” which requires states to identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities, aged birth to 21, who are in need of early intervention or special education services. This means that schools “should” be requesting parental permission to do testing without prompting. However, many times, this is not the case.

Special Education Services Verses Special Education Classrooms/Schools
Special education is not defined as a special classroom or school. In fact, the law states that school districts are required to educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers, in the school they would attend if not disabled, to the maximum extent appropriate. What this means is, the district must provide necessary supports, accommodations and supplemental aides and services to make this happen. The only exception to this rule is if after using all the above accommodations and supports, the student would not benefit educationally, other settings can be entertained. However, it is always up to the IEP team, which includes the parents of the student to determine placement. This is not a unilateral school district decision.

My Child Has a Disability. Now What?
Schools are required to perform multi-disciplinary educational testing upon request from a parent or legal guardian of a child with a disability. However, while some schools may acknowledge a verbal request, it is recommended that the parent or legal guardian place this request in writing.

What's a Multi-Disciplinary Educational Evaluation?
Multi-Disciplinary is defined as: composed of or combining several usually separate branches of learning or fields of expertise

What this means specifically to each child is different. For an example, a student with a cognitive, neurological or developmental disability might require testing in the following disciplines: Speech and Language, Social and Emotional Reciprocity, Fine and Gross Motor skills, Academic Achievement (Reading and Analytical skills), Intelligence Quotient Testing, etc. Each student might have specific weaknesses and/or strengths that need measured. Parents should also be given an opportunity to add data to the report, either from outside evaluations or standard checklists provided by the school.

Regardless, it is wise to have all children with known disabilities tested for special education services in order to determine if there are unmet needs to address with specially designed instruction.

According to law, testing must be completed within 60 days. Unless otherwise specified, this is generally calendar days and not school days. Check with your state for more information on interpretation.

Once the evaluation process is complete, a report should be available to review prior to any meetings with the school. In the report will be scores for standardized testing and observational data by qualified evaluators. The final summary of the report might indicate a recommended placement or may indicate that there is no need for specially designed instruction. Either way, a meeting is held to discuss the findings.

The Post Evaluation Meeting
At the meeting the report will be discussed by those who participated in the process. This includes the parents. At the meeting the entire team decides whether or not special education services are appropriate, what type of services if any, and where those services will take place. If the team is in agreement that special education services are appropriate, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be written as a team. If the team decides special education services are not appropriate, the team should then consider creating a 504 Plan which allows for modifications and accommodations for the student. It does not, however, allow for specially designed instruction.

What is Specially Designed Instruction (SDI)
1“Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.”

In other words, SDI means adapting anything and everything necessary so that the child can be a successful student. This can include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Social Skills Instruction
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Specialized Math and Reading programs
  • Occupational Therapy

In addition to SDI, the IEP allows for unlimited accommodations for the student such as:

  • Extended time for tests
  • No timed tests
  • Fewer problems/questions on a test
  • Minimized distractions in the classroom
  • Assistive Technology such as word processing, speech to text, calculators, communication systems, etc.
  • Preferential seating in classrooms
  • Minimize or eliminate homework
  • Daily visual schedules

The list can go on and on. There is nothing that cannot be “considered” by the IEP team. While the team may not agree on all suggestions, the team must “consider” any suggestions brought forth.

1 IDEA 2004 Regulations §300.39 A

Published with Permission from DANMC