What is IDEA?
The term "special education" generally refers to programs offered under the IDEA, which requires that all students who have a disability specified in the law receive a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE). Students are eligible for federally funded special education services under IDEA if they have one of a number of specific disabilities.
IDEA, along with the state regulations that define how Texas implements the federal requirements, establish a very specific process for how a student is identified and tested and how modifications to instruction, discipline, or placement will be determined and changed.
What is Section 504?
Section 504 prohibits discrimination based solely upon disability in any program receiving federal financial assistance.
Students who have a condition meeting the general definition of a disability but who do not fall into one of the IDEA categories might be eligible for accommodations under Section 504. Such accommodations might include modification of instruction, grading, or placement.
Unlike IDEA, Section 504 does not describe a specific procedure for identifying disabilities and deciding on accommodations. Instead, school districts set their own policies, but most use a process very similar to that used for special education students.
The procedures outlined below are applicable to IDEA, but many districts use a similar process for Section 504.
What should you do if you think a student may need special services?
Students must be assessed to determine if special instruction or related services are necessary for the student to benefit fully from the educational program:
- When the student is suspected of having a disability
- After a referral of assessment is made by a classroom teacher or other source (any person with reason to believe that a student may need special services can refer that student for testing)
- Within 60 days from the date the referral was initiated
- With consent from the parent or legal guardian
- According to very particular procedural protections for the student and parents
- At the school’s cost
How are placement and services determined?
- Admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees make all decisions concerning: whether a student is eligible for services; the placement or setting in which the student will receive those services; at what point the child no longer needs special education; and, at least initially, what specific services the student needs.
- An ARD committee is composed, at a minimum, of a student’s parents, an administrator, a representative from special education and a regular education teacher if the student will be educated in the regular setting. In some circumstances, there may be additional members. Other nonvoting participants may be included if they are needed to provide helpful input.
- ARD committees develop an individualized education program (IEP) for each student. An IEP sets out goals for a particular student and specifies how those goals will be met. It may also include instructions for special therapy services, adaptive technology, modified class work or a special behavioral intervention plan (BIP). If a student’s class work needs to be modified, those modifications must be initially developed through the ARD process and placed in the IEP.
Where should students with disabilities be educated?
- IDEA presumes that students with disabilities will be educated with their peers without disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE) that is appropriate. (This is where the concept of inclusion comes from.)
- Districts must provide supplementary aids and services necessary to make placement with peers without disabilities possible, such as computer-assisted technology, special furniture, a modified curriculum, training for the teacher or provision of a special education teacher or aide—in short, whatever device or service is necessary for the satisfactory implementation of the IEP in the regular classroom setting.
- When a student is placed in a more restrictive setting, the district must be able to show that the regular setting was not appropriate for implementation of that student’s IEP.
- If the education of the other students in a class would be significantly impaired by the presence of a particular student with a disability, then that class is not an appropriate placement for that student. However, consideration first must be given to all supplementary aids and services that might accommodate the student in that setting.
What exactly is an IEP?
- An IEP is an official document developed by an ARD committee that records all aspects of a student’s educational program.
- An IEP should include, at a minimum, annual goals, short-term instructional objectives, and all special education and related services to be provided to a particular student.
- Districts are responsible for seeing that all aspects of IEPs are properly implemented.
- Teachers are required to follow the modifications set forth in IEPs.
Each teacher of a student with disabilities should be given relevant sections of that student’s IEP.