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Education Today: What's So Special About Special Education?

Education Today
What's So Special About Special Education?

Special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights not available to children in regular education. Specifically, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) provides families of special education children the right to:
* have their child assessed or tested to determine their special education eligibility and needs
* inspect and review school records relating to their child
* attend an annual "Individualized Education Program" (IEP) meeting and develop a written IEP plan with representatives of the local school district, and
* resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.
Eligibility Under IDEA
Every school district is legally required to identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities. After the evaluation, a disabled child may be provided with specific programs and services to address his or her special needs.
IDEA defines "children with disabilities" as individuals between the ages of three and 22 with one or more of the following conditions:
* mental retardation
* hearing impairment (including deafness)
* speech or language impairment
* visual impairment (including blindness)
* serious emotional disturbance
* orthopedic impairment
* autism
* traumatic brain injury
* specific learning disability, or
* other health impairment.
For your child to qualify for special education under IDEA, it is not enough that he has one of these disabilities. There must also be evidence that your child's disability adversely affects his educational performance.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Special education centers on a process for evaluating your child and the development and provision of an individualized education program, or IEP, that meets your child's unique needs.
Every written IEP document must include the same information, although forms will vary from one school district to another.
1. Current Educational Status
* A description of your child's current status in school in the areas of cognitive skills, linguistic ability, emotional behavior, social skills and behavior and physical ability.
2. Goals and Objectives
* Goals and objectives are the nuts and bolts of the child's daily program as detailed in the IEP, and generally refer to academic, linguistic and other cognitive activities, such as reading or math.
3. Instructional Setting or Placement
* IEP information about the instructional setting or placement for your child. At the core of IDEA is the requirement that children with disabilities be placed in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE), commonly referred to as mainstreaming.
4. Optional Components
* Other components, such as specific teaching methods or class subjects, or anything else the IEP team agrees should be included.
5. Transition Services
* Vocational and advanced-placement needs and courses, and any involvement with non-educational agencies that provide vocational and other support services for individuals with disabilities.
6. Due Process
* The specific right of a parent to take any dispute you have with your child's school district--whether a disagreement about an assessment, eligibility or any part of the IEP, including the specific placement and related services--to a neutral third party to help you resolve your dispute.
For more information on state special education laws and regulations, contact your state department of education. Any school district can give you the appropriate office to contact.

Budd A. Moore, Ed.D., is a school counselor at South Hagerstown High School and The Washington County Evening High School. Questions or comments about this column can be directed to him at

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