Introduction to Special Education
Some children who are having problems in school
may need extra help through special education. Special education is for children who have
a disability. If your child has a disability, special education can help your child learn. We work with one child at a time.
[Music up] Your child. This program is An Introduction to Special
Education for you and your child, and is brought to you by the Wisconsin Statewide Parent-Educator
Initiative and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Special education means instruction that is specially designed to meet the unique needs
of a child with a disability. Special Education means adapting what a child learns, and how
he or she learns it. Federal laws require public schools to give
special education to children who need it. Your local school district can help you find
the most effective educational options for your Child . We’d like to show you how the
special education process works. The Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act, (IDEA) states that all children with disabilities must receive a Free and Appropriate
Public Education or FAPE. This means that special education is provided at no cost to
families. What is appropriate for one child will likely be different than what is appropriate
for others. And, special education meets the unique needs of each child.
All services are delivered with the intent of helping your to prepare your child for
further education, employment and independent living. Special Education is not just a curriculum,
but a process of determining what is appropriate for your child, and then providing it in the
most meaningful way. This is what makes special education “individualized”
for each child. Special education is a five-step process,
beginning with referral. You may already know or suspect that your child may need special
education services. A referral may come from parents or guardians like yourself, medical
professionals, teachers, or someone from the school district itself. Schools often identify
preschool children with special needs through early community screenings. Anyone who cares
about the child can make a referral for special education.
You as a parent can send a referral letter to the school district’s special education
director or Principal. Include the date, the specific phrase “this is a referral for
special education”, your child’s first and last name, their birth date, and a brief
explanation of why you believe special education may be needed for your child.
The second step is evaluating whether your child qualifies for special education. Existing
information may be enough for you and the school to make that determination. You may
be asked to share information about your child, tests may be conducted or your child may be
observed to get a complete picture. You must be notified about any tests in writing
and your permission must be given before they are done.
The third step is the IEP team meeting – or series of meetings – to discuss the evaluation
and make recommendations for placement. You are an important team member. Your attendance
is crucial because you are an expert about your child. You have the right to ask that this meeting
be held at a time when you are able to attend. As an equal partner on the team, you’re
encouraged to actively participate, voice concerns and ask questions.
At the IEP team meeting, any results of tests will be shared and your child’s strengths
and needs will be discussed. If it is decided that your child is eligible for special education,
the team will provide an evaluation report and prepare a written plan. You may need more
time to read the report, and talk with others before you feel comfortable with your child’s
evaluation or writing the educational plan, called the IEP. This is normal. Ask the school
personnel to wait, or set up another meeting, until you are ready for the next step. We
will talk about the IEP in more detail later in the video.
The fourth step in the process is placement, based on your child’s IEP and taking into
account what your child should be learning. The setting with the most appropriate special
education and related services is called the Least Restrictive Environment or LRE. A child
with a disability will ideally attend the same school as children without disabilities.
Sometimes this isn’t appropriate, but the team will strive for the Least Restrictive
Environment, as close as possible to home. After the IEP meeting you will be asked to
sign consent before your child receives special education for the first time. All school staff
must follow the IEP. Throughout the year, you will receive reports from the school about
your child’s progress toward his or her IEP goals. However, your child’s teachers
will also want to communicate with you along the way. Be available and stay involved. This
is a good way to share daily concerns, stay informed and build positive relationships
with the people who care for your child every day.
The final step is an ongoing one – the annual review. Your child’s IEP will be reviewed
yearly to determine if services are appropriate, if goals are being reached or should be changed
and if any additional needs have occurred. This ensures that your child is receiving
the best possible combination of services to help him achieve his personal best. In
addition, each special education student is re-evaluated for eligibility at least once
every three years unless you and the school agree not to hold an evaluation.
The school district has 15 business days after receiving a referral to send a request for
your signed consent to evaluate your child. After you send the school your written permission,
the school has 60 calendar days to complete the evaluation and hold an IEP team meeting
to determine if the child is eligible for special education services. After that, the
school has an additional 30 days in which to complete an IEP and offer placement. . You
will receive plenty of information about this process. It’s a good idea to start a file
to contain the paperwork. The Individualized Education Program – or
IEP – is the heart of your child’s special education. A team of many concerned people
will participate in your child’s IEP. This is called the IEP team, and includes . . .
A Local Education Agency representative or LEA – this is usually a school district
professional who has the authority to say what the school can provide to your child.
This person might be a principal or a school psychologist. Other people on the team are
you, your child’s regular education teacher, a special education teacher, and other people
– invited by you or the school – who care about your child or have special expertise.
Your child, if 14 years of age must be invited. The purpose of the IEP team is to evaluate
your child for eligibility for special education, determine your child’s educational needs,
recommend placement, and review the IEP to ensure that present and future needs are met. Classes and related services beyond the normal
school year may be recommended by the IEP team. This is not summer school, and may have
a more flexible and varied schedule. These services are considered if the child may lose
skills when school is out, or when emerging skills, behavior or physical problems need
to be addressed throughout the summer or other school vacation time. These services will
be written in the IEP. Sometimes you may not agree with other members
of the IEP team. The good news is, there is a plan for resolving your differences! Informal
means of resolution include discussing your concerns with the individual staff or even
writing a letter to the school. You may request another IEP team meeting, and you may ask
for a trained facilitator who does not work for the school. Mediation is also available
and often helps both parties find solutions. You also have a right to formally disagree
by requesting a due process hearing before a judge. If you think the school has not followed
special education laws, you may file a complaint to the state Department of Public Instruction. All children deserve an educational program
that helps them become the best they can be. Remember, you are a full and equal partner
through the entire special education process. Be sure you know your rights in the special
education process and the people with whom you can work to best meet your child’s needs. As an expert about your child, your input
and participation is crucial to your child’s success in school. Together we can make it
happen – one child at a time. For more information, please contact your
local school district, Cooperative Educational Service Agency, the Wisconsin Statewide Parent-Educator
Initiative or other parent advocacy groups, like Wisconsin FACETS, to assist you with
any questions you may have. [Music up]