December 2012: The Special Education Process - Part I

In order to survive as a general education teacher working with children with special needs, it is important to become very familiar with the process by which children are identified as having a disability. This process is called the special education process and involves a number of steps that must follow federal, state, and district guidelines. These guidelines have been created to protect the rights of students, parents and school districts and as a result you must be knowledgeable to assist parents and students through this involved process. Working together within these guidelines ensures a comprehensive assessment of a student and the proper special education services and modifications if required. When a student is having difficulty in school, there are many attempts made by the professional staff to resolve the problem. When these interventions do not work, a more extensive look at the student is required.

The following parts describe the information you should know in order to guarantee that any child you work with in special education is provided the most comprehensive opportunity to clearly define his/her symptoms, problems, needs, learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, classroom placements, modifications, and so on. While the specific stages of this process may vary from state to state, district to district and even school to school, the following steps encompass the concepts and information that should be utilized by any system.

There are actually two stages to the referral process. The first stage looks at potential high risk children and determines the most suitable direction for that child. This direction might include a wide variety of options e.g., change of program, consolidation of program, disciplinary actions, parent counseling etc. However, when the Child Study Team, the local school committee assigned to monitor children with potential problems determines that the child being reviewed fits the criteria for a suspected disability the second stage begins which is the start of the special education process.

This two stage process involves several different steps. Each step should be reviewed in terms of your responsibilities, the legal procedures, parental rights and responsibilities and implications for the student. This section will take you step by step through this process which will be crucial for you to understand in your role as a general education teacher working with children with special needs.

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