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What are "special education programs"?

Special Needs Education Defined

Peter Wong (Professional Clear Education Specialist) gives expert video advice on: Do private schools have special education programs?; What additional training do special education teachers receive? and more...

What are "special education programs"?

Special education programs are supports and services that are provided for students that attend public institutions, primary or secondary, as mandated in their IEPs, otherwise known as Individualized Education Plans.

Do private schools have special education programs?

Private schools are not mandated to have special education programs. Special education programs are funded out of federal funds from the Department of Education. Any school receiving federal funds is supposed to have a special education program. Since private schools are a little more selective about who they take in and who they don't take in, they are not mandated to have those programs.

Why are special education programs necessary?

Special education programs have been implemented in part by legislation. The Individuals With Disabilities Improvement Education Act of 2004 is a byproduct of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, etc. Various legislations were created to ensure that students with disabilities were given a fair and equitable treatment, what we call "A free and appropriate public education," and to allow them access to the general curriculum that they otherwise wouldn't be able to access because of the nature or the severity of their disability.

How are special education programs funded?

All special education programs that are federally funded are free to the parent. It's part of the Free and Appropriate Public Education. Just as a general education student can attend any public school for free, special education students also attend school for free: their parents are not required to contribute any monies of their own. In fact, many of the services that can be granted to students with special needs are also funded out of federal funds so that the parents don't have to spend a dime on them.

Are all schools required to have special education programs?

All public schools are required to have special education programs. However, if a school doesn't have a specific program, they are not all required to have the same program. The district is required to have a program available for students with special needs, which is to say that if the school in your neighbourhood didn't have a particular program for your child's needs, it's the districts responsibility to find a neighbouring school that does. So, not all schools are entitled to have the same programs.

Are there federal standards that all special education programs must adhere to?

Yes, there is. As of recently, No Child Left Behind, Modified Consent Decree, Individuals With Disabilities Improvement Education Act, all have guidelines as to how students with special needs should be taught, how they should be evaluated, goals, goal achievement. There are very strict guidelines and accountability guidelines in the legislations.

How do special education programs differ between schools?

Special education programs depend largely on the demographics of the area. Special education programs depend on the physical foundation or structure of schools. Some schools may not be suited for students with orthopaedic impairments because of getting in and out of classrooms and buildings. So the way schools will deal with special educational needs is sometimes they will concentrate certain programs at certain school sites, and the bus will transport students with those special educational needs to that school.

Are special needs classes taught at a slower pace?

The pace of special needs classes depends largely on the type of program that the student is enrolled in. Services are available across the entire spectrum. If you have a student that is in a program that caters to the needs of students with learning disabilities, that's a class that may proceed at a slower pace than the general curriculum. However, a program that caters to the needs of students with emotional difficulties, where the students are at the same academic level as their same-age peers, they would proceed at the same pace. And in some instances, you will even find classes and programs where the pace of special needs classes is quickened because that is what the students need to keep them engaged. It depends entirely on what the student's disability is and the severity of it, and the individual needs of the student.

Who should I talk to if my child might benefit from a special education program?

A parent that feels that their child would benefit from placement in a special education program should first consult with their child's school counsellor. That is the first stop that a parent should make, and see if their child has already undergone some type of intervention. By law, all students in the general education, before they are identified for special education or even assessed for special education must undergo what they call a "Student Success Team,". This is an intervention at the general education level. What that means is that if a student is unsuccessful at school, for whatever reason while they're still considered a general education student, a meeting is called together whereby all of that student's teachers are gathered, as well as counsellors and administrators to see what can be done to help their child be successful in general education. Only after an SST intervention is unsuccessful in helping a student to achieve success that a referral to special education is made. Once again, parents should be in touch with their children's counsellors and their teachers as early as possible.

Can I appeal my child's placement in special education?

Parents of children that are already identified as special needs, and are already in special education programs, that feel that their children are improperly placed or maybe that the current program that they're placed in isn't meeting the needs of their children have it well within their right to demand that another IEP be held by the school, and that another assessment be made for the purposes of seeing if another program would be more appropriate for the special needs child.

What additional training do special education teachers receive?

Special educators typically receive additional training in the area of teaching strategies. The focus is less on core content knowledge, and more on teaching students how to learn or how to learn to learn. Special educators are typically better at breaking down problems into smaller parts - what we call task analysis - and helping students to access the curriculum by building on prior knowledge.

How are students first identified as candidates for special education programs?

Students are first identified as candidates for special education programs after a student success team has been implemented at the general education level by the school that the student is currently attending. It is only after the SST team determines that the recommendations made by the professionals involved, which are all the teachers that work with the student at the general education level, have been unsuccessful that they make a referral for a special education evaluation and assessment.