Understanding the Special Education Process

Whether you choose private or public education you need to be assured that your child is receiving maximum support in school. Often procedures and programs are overwhelming. In order to make informed decisions, it is important to understand the special education process and to know your rights. Although schools differ slightly when identifying children who qualify for special education services the process is fairly consistent between states. If your child is experiencing difficulties in any area of learning, your involvement benefits your child in many ways. The better informed you are as a parent the more effective the interventions become. The types of concerns addressed may include academics, behavior, social/emotional, and health issues. You may be the first to express a concern, or the school might notify you. Before your child can be identified as having special education needs, however, schools must follow certain guidelines. Pre-referral is an important part of the special education process.

Pre-referral helps to make certain that your child is provided with appropriate modifications and accommodations before being referred for special education testing. These strategies may include, but are not limited to, physical placement in the classroom, presentation and modification of materials, as well as individualized behavior plans. Often the modifications and strategies that are recommended provide your child with enough support that academic performance is improved and special education services are not required.

Different states refer to the child study team by different names. In some states the team is a function of general education, in others, the team is a part of the special education program. In any case, it is a school site committee whose primary function is to ensure that each child receives the most appropriate classroom support. The meetings are usually held in your child’s classroom or in an office at the school site, before or after school, allowing your child’s teacher to participate. By providing early identification and intervention for students who are experiencing difficulty in school, the child study team serves as a problem solving forum. The team works together in order to determine your child’s strengths and areas of difficulty. Your participation is very important. This is your opportunity to ask questions and provide critical information about your child. Members of the team will brainstorm in order to develop strategies and an action plan. Later the members will monitor, assess, and discuss the effectiveness of the implementation of the plan that was developed by the team. You have the right to ask questions and call additional meetings, if necessary. Team meeting notes will be taken and copies should be distributed to all members of the team. This documentation demonstrates that the school is providing your child with the legally required general education interventions. Team members vary depending on numerous factors. Often the general education teacher will be involved, as will a counselor, school psychologist, and/or an administrator. Teams may also include special education and related service providers. As the parent, you are an integral part of the team. While the school has the responsibility to invite you at a convenient time it is not absolutely required that you attend. It is however highly recommended as you have a wealth of information regarding your child’s preferred learning styles, health and educational history, behavior, personality traits, areas of difficulty, and strengths.

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