Special education in the United States

Special education in the United States enables students with exceptional learning needs to access resources through special education programs. These programs did not always exist. “The idea of excluding students with any disability from public school education can be traced back to 1893, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court expelled a student merely due to poor academic ability”.[1] This exclusion would be the basis of education for all individuals with special needs for years to come. In 1954, Brown v. Board of Education sparked the belief that the right to a public education applies to all individuals regardless of race, gender, or disability.[1] Finally, special education programs in the United States were made mandatory in 1975 when the United States Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) “(sometimes referred to using the acronyms EAHCA or EHA, or Public Law (PL) 94-142) was enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, in response to discriminatory treatment by public educational agencies against students with disabilities.” The EAHCA was later modified to strengthen protections to students with disabilities and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires states to provide special education and related services consistent with federal standards as a condition of receiving federal funds.

Education of children with disabilities in the United States
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IDEA entitles every student to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). To ensure a FAPE, a team of professionals from the local educational agency and the student’s parents to identify the student’s unique educational needs, develop annual goals for the student, and determine the placement, program modification, testing accommodations, counseling, and other special services which meet the student’s needs. Parents are supposed to be equal participants in this process as well as others that are knowledgeable about the child, the meaning of the data collected through the evaluation, and all placement options. The student’s plan, to include the above items, is recorded in a written Individualized Education Program (IEP). The child’s placement is typically determined by the annual assessment, based on the child’s IEP, and as close in proximity to the child’s home as possible. The school is required to develop and implement an IEP that meets the standards of federal and state educational agencies. The state department of education oversees its schools to make sure they are compliant to every student’s IEP. If schools fail to comply to the child’s IEP, the school district may be put on trial. Parents have the option of refusing Special Education services for their child if they choose.

Under IDEA, students with disabilities are entitled to receive special education services through their local school district from age 3 to age 18 or 21. To receive special education services, a student must demonstrate a disability in one of 13 specific categories, including autism, developmental disability, specific learning disability, intellectual impairment, emotional and/or behavioral disability, intellectual disability, speech and language disability, deaf-blind, visual impairment, hearing impairment, orthopedic or physical impairment, other health impaired (including attention deficit disorder), multiple disabilities and traumatic brain injury. Depending on the students’ individual needs, they may be included, mainstreamed, or placed in a special school, and/or may receive many specialized services in separate classrooms. In addition to academic goals, the goals documented in the IEP may address self-care, social skills, physical, speech, and vocational training. The program placement is an integral part of the process and typically takes place during the IEP meeting.[2]

. . . Special education in the United States . . .

A Free Appropriate Public Education means special education and related services that:

  • Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge,
  • Meet state requirements and the requirements of federal regulations
  • Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved, and
  • Comply with a lawful Individual/Individualized Education Program

See 34 CFR 300.17

Further information: Least Restrictive Environment

The least restrictive environment is defined as “educating students with disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate with students without disabilities. It specifies that the removal of learners from the general education environment may occur only when the nature or severity of the student’s disability precludes satisfactory instruction in general education classes, even with supplementary aids and services. [3]

The least restrictive environment (LRE) mandate requires that all students in special education be educated with typical peers to the greatest extent possible, while still providing FAPE. The LRE requirement is intended to prevent unnecessary segregation of students with disabilities and is based on Congress’ finding students with disabilities tend to have more success when they remain with or have access to typical peers. More students with disabilities are being educated in regular education classrooms. Up to 95% of students with disabilities spend at least part of their day in regular education classrooms as of 2016. [4]

Although students should be educated in their LRE according to the law, there is something else we have to explore when it comes to a student’s LRE. A student’s behavior is key to the LRE. If the behavior is not appropriate in that LRE, then it can be addressed with restrictions and (BIP) Behavior Intervention Plan. A Behavior Intervention Plan is a plan that is based on the results of a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and, at minimum, includes a description of the problem behavior, global and specific hypothesis as to why the problem behavior occurs, and intervention strategies that include positive behavior supports and services to address the behavior. [5] School Systems must allow one of the following persons to write and train teachers on the plan, before implementation in the classroom. This plan will have to be merged with the IEP to ensure a successful learning environment.[6]

. . . Special education in the United States . . .

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. . . Special education in the United States . . .