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Special Education- Continuum of Services

Updated: May 11, 2022

Special education is not a place. It is a service. Special education services students with a broad range of disabilities. In order to appropriately educate all of these students public schools have developed a broad continuum of special education programs that are designed to meet their needs.


Before the Evaluation Process


Prior to the evaluation process, schools should be able to provide data relating to the intervention services provided to address the student’s struggles. This data can be through an intervention program, classroom supports, school supports, or independent provider support. It is important for the school to be able to speak to how they have monitored the student’s progress. There should also have been several touch points with you as the parent in regards to student’s progress. If the student responds positively to the intervention, the likelihood for them to continue to the evaluation process would be lessen or totally eliminated. If the student continues to struggle after several interventions, the next step should be evaluation to identify the issue further.


How Schools Decide What Special Education Services to Offer Individual Students


Before students can consider specific special education programs, they are required by law to provide initial diagnostic evaluations for students. The purpose of those evaluations is to assess the student’s current level of performance, the student’s disability and how that disability impacts the student’s progress in the general education curriculum.


Once the assessments are complete the student’s Team convenes to decide whether the student is eligible and, if so, to write the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The Team, commonly called an IEP Team, is made up of individuals that have important personal knowledge about the student such as the student’s parents, teachers and assessors and individuals who have important knowledge about the district’s continuum of special education services and resources. Together, the IEP Team discusses the possible services a student should receive based on his or her individual needs. Once the Team drafts the IEP (and it gets the required parental consent), the school district is legally obligated to provide the special education and related services specified in that IEP.


Special Education Facilities


Special education is offered in various facilities depending on the nature of the service required. Some services are provided in the general education classroom. Some specialized instruction and related services are provided in separate classrooms. These services are known as pull out services.


Special education services for the most seriously involved students may take place in separate public schools or state approved private schools if circumstances warrant. Federal special education law has a strong preference for educating students in the least restrictive environment possible which is the general classroom. However, sometimes students have involved physical or emotional disabilities that make that unfeasible.


If special education services are being provided in a separate classroom or building, it is important that the facility be comparable to what general education students receive. For example, special education classrooms should not be in converted broom closets in the school’s basement while all other classrooms are upstairs with lots of room and windows. Ironically, if many non-special education classes or services are held in basement broom classes then it is also okay to have special education classrooms in those spaces. The law seeks equality not superiority for special education facilities.


Special Education Programs


Special education programs must be individualized to meet the needs of the students. That means that even if there is a behavioral resource room or a substantially separate classroom that primarily educates students on the autism spectrum, IEP Teams must carefully consider what specific services each student who is eligible for special education should receive in order for that child to make progress in the general curriculum. That said, suppose you have two fifth graders who have very similar disabilities on the autism spectrum. Each IEP Team must consider how many hours of specialized instruction each child needs, whether it should take place in the general education classroom or in the substantially separate classroom and whether either child needs related services such as occupational therapy, physical therapy or psychological counseling and if so, in what amounts. The IEP Team must justify any time that a disabled child spends apart from his or her nondisabled peers. Therefore, it is not enough to say that an autism class exists and all children with autism should participate.


In order to meet the needs of every special education in the district, most school districts offer a continuum of special education services. This often includes special education teachers and related service providers who provide instruction in the general education classroom, special education teachers and related service providers who provide instruction in resource rooms and substantially separate programs that are designed to meet the needs of students with similar disabilities who are unlikely to be able to spend much time in the regular education classroom.


Special education programs exist to meet the needs of some of our country’s most vulnerable students. However, these students are often the ones who can greatly benefit from high quality special education programs.




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