Special education in American schools
What is Special Educaction?
Special Education is a set of guidelines that teachers, parents, and students follow so that each child has a specific educational plan in place. All stakeholders will have input into creating the specific learning objectives for each child with special education services. The idea behind this is so that the children that need the most help in certain educational and social areas will get focused support from not only the classroom teacher, but also from the special education team of teachers. The team of educators, parents, and consultants will eventually meet to create an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for the child.
Special Education services are not only put into place for students that have specific disabilities, but the Special Education services are also available for students with significantly high abilities, usually referred to as "gifted".
The IEP will detail specifically the knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes that the educators will focus on to give the child the best chance to succeed. The IEPs are then reviewed periodically throughout the year as necessary and team meetings must occur at least once annually. The special education process allows students with IEPs to remain in public school until they reach the age of 21 years. At that point, it is hopeful that students with IEPs have been given enough educational ability to survive and thrive independently or at least at a group home setting.
Which laws protect disabled students?
Students with disabilities are protected by federal laws that assure they will receive a free and appropriate public education; it is the obligation of public schools to give students this special help. Two of the most important laws are:
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a federal law that authorizes special education for children with disabilities in the United States. It also authorizes early intervention services of states offer to infants and preschoolers with disabilities. This law has been amended many times over the years. The most recent amendments were approved by Congress in December of 2004.
- Section 504: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits all programs and activities, whether they be public or private, that receive federal funds from discriminating based on disabilities. This law applies to all public school districts. Under 504, a person with a disability is a person with a physical or mental impediment that substantially limits one or more principal life activities, has a record of that limitation, or may be considered to have that limitation. Section 504 compliance falls under the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (OCR).
Who is eligible for special education?
Certain children with disabilities are eligible to receive special education and related services. IDEA offers a definition for a "child with a disability," and the law lists 13 different categories of disabilities under which children can be eligible to receive special education and related services. These categories are:
- Developmental Delay
- Emotional Disturbance
- Hearing Impairment
- Mental Retardation
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment Including Blindness
Parents should participate
Though, it is the obligation of public schools to offer students with special needs the help they need, is also important that parents get involved and advocate for their children. For your participation to be effective, parents should be well-informed about the rights and the process of special education.
There are occasions in which parents believe that they do not have the same rights as other parents because they are from other countries, do not speak English, or have not finalized their immigrant status. Within the educational system of the U.S., all parents, regardless of the language they speak, immigration status, or origin, has the right to actively participate in the educational process of their children.
To take into consideration:
- Schools must inform the rights to parents in a way that is easy for them to understand.
- If parents don't speak English or only understand a little bit, the school should make every reasonable effort so that an interpreter is present at school meetings.
- Parents have the right that their child's file remain confidential.
- Schools must obtain the parent's written consent to perform evaluations of the child to determine whether he has a disability or not.
- Parents have the right to participate as a member of a team that will determine the child's special needs, the location of the child's instruction, and the special education services that the school will provide.
- Parents have the right to disagree with decisions made by the school, or actions taken by the school related to eligibility, environment or the classroom of the child, and to initiate a variety of steps to resolve the discrepancy.