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Special Education Opportunities for Special Needs Children

by Sharon Harvey, Esquire

The first day of school is always an exciting and a stressful time for parents and their children, particularly for children who are going to school for the first time. All parents naturally assume that their child will make friends, behave appropriately in class, get good grades and move onto the next grade without any problems. It often comes as a shock to the parents when their child doesn’t follow this magical master plan. The parents are often unsure about what to do to help their child and often unaware of what services the school district must provide to help a child succeed.

Special Education issues are governed by The Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), which became effective July 1, 2005. If a parent suspects that his or her child is having trouble at school because of the need for educational support services, the parent can request an evaluation which would be conducted by a certified school psychologist. The testing must be completed in a timely fashion. This testing includes a Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Reasoning, Processing and Memory Tests. Reading, comprehension and math skills are also assessed. The parents are asked to complete the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC), a comprehensive set of scales and series of forms, which provides insight of the child’s behavior.

After testing is completed, the school psychologist will make recommendations in a form called the Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). If it is determined that the child needs special services, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) will be developed for the child. The school and the teachers are required to implement and follow the recommendations contained in the IEP.

If an IEP is not offered, the parent can appeal the decision and a hearing will be conducted. If an IEP is found to be unnecessary, a student may be offered a “504” accommodation which consists of suggestions for teachers to follow. The 504 differs from the IEP in that the recommendations are not mandatory but mere suggestions. The teachers are not required to follow or implement the recommendations contained in the 504.

The school also has an obligation to identify a child who may need special services in a “timely manner” under the “Child Find” provisions of the IDEA. If the parent believes that the school failed to identify its child’s needed services or accommodations, and due to the action or inaction of the school district the appropriate programs were not provided, then the parent can file for a compensatory education alleging that his or her child was denied a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).

The right to request an evaluation for an IEP continues throughout the student’s entire educational career. It is not limited to primary school. A parent should not be reluctant to ask for an evaluation when a child who has done well in elementary school suddenly has problems in middle school or high school. Each educational level presents new challenges. The additional support that the IEP provides can help the “at risk” student reach his or her full potential.