Special Education: Does My Child Qualify?
Written By: Yu-pei “Peggy”, C. Ph.D., Clinical Director, A is for Apple, Inc.
WHAT IS SPECIAL EDUCATION?
Special education stems from the Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA) that guarantees all children with disabilities receive free and appropriate public education. Children who qualify for special education will receive an individualized education plan (IEP) that takes into account of their unique learning needs, which outlines specific goals and teaching strategies to ensure their academic gains.
WHO QUALIFIES FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION?
Under IDEA, there are 14 categories under which a student is eligible to receive the protections and services promised in the law. They are:
- Emotional Disturbance
- Hearing Impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
- Multiple Disabilities
- Other Health Impairments (i.e., ADHD)
PROCESS TO DETERMINING SPED ELIGIBILITY:
To qualify for special education, children will first need to be referred for a full and individual evaluation (FIE), based on the presence of academic needs. Parents will be asked to provide a consent for evaluation, then can qualified professionals begin gathering data through objective measures, criterion referenced test battery, academic file records, naturalistic observation, and/or diagnostic interviews that typically involves the parents, teachers, and sometimes the children themselves. After the professional gathered the collected information, he or she will make a recommendation either for or against the eligibility for special education.
After an FIE is completed, school will then initiate a meeting, known as the IEP meeting, to invite all relevant party to sit together and review and share the evaluation results with the family. Parents will have the right to sign in writing to either agree or disagree with the decision proposed by the school.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MY CHILD QUALIFIES FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION:
After you have the first IEP meeting and special education is set in motion, parents will be invited back every year for the annual IEP meeting to discuss progress and goals. Your child will also receive a re-evaluation every three year to examine his or her continued special education qualifications.
Your rights as a parent guarantee you to call for an IEP meeting at anytime you deem modifications to your child’s education plan are necessary.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN 504 PLAN AND SPECIAL EDUCATION:
504 plan is developed to ensure that all children who have a disability identified under the law to receive the appropriate accommodations in public schools.
The key word here is accommodations, meaning that no changes or modification will be made to the child’s education plan. Child will receive the same curriculum as their non-special education counterparts, except the accommodations specified based on their learning needs.
Modification to a child’s education plan is considered special education, and can only be made at an IEP meeting as a result of special education qualification.
Some examples of accommodations include extended time on tests and assignments, preferential seating, visual, verbal or technology aids, behavioral management support, etc.
CAN PARENTS INITIATE SPECIAL EDUCATION PROCESS:
Yes, as a parent with legal custody, you have a right to request your public school to evaluate your child for special education. The request will need to be done in writing, with copies to the principal and the school district director or coordinator of special education. Be sure to put a date on the written request. Per California state law, school district has 15 calendar days to respond to your written request. For more information regarding Special Education Right for Children and Families, you can read this PDF online.
Being in special education often brings along the stigma and misconception that a child is unintelligent or low functioning. However, there are many children who exemplify a number of strengths, but qualify for special education because they just learn differently compared to their similar age peers. Thus, it is essential to not lose sight of the special and unique skills set that these kiddos bring forth. With the right kind of support and cultivation, they are sure to thrive and prosper!