Who Can Provide Special Education Services?

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“My -year-old made little progress in reading over the last 3-4 years while receiving special education services from a special ed teacher, so we had him evaluated. The evaluator recommended a different reading program. We asked the team for intensive tutoring from the school reading specialist.

The team said, “We can’t write services by the reading specialist in the IEP because the specialist is not a special ed teacher.”

Is this right? Can’t a child receive instruction or tutoring from a reading specialist who is not a special ed teacher?

Young boy working with a reading specialist

Reading tutor teaches boy to read.

Short Answer: Yes, your child can receive reading instruction or tutoring from an individual who is not a special ed teacher. The federal special education law – IDEA – requires the school to provide your child with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). The law does not require a special education teacher to provide special education and related services.

In your child’s case, a free appropriate public education involves teaching him to read. A special ed teacher provided services for years but made little progress. He fell further behind his peers. He needs intensive research-based instruction in reading from a highly trained teacher — like a reading specialist.

Most teacher prep programs don’t require special educators to know how to teach kids to read.  See these blog posts:
Fifth grader is reading at a 2.7-grade level – should he be tested for special ed?
No Offense, but isn’t It alarming that so many children are not learning to read?

“Reading is the gateway skill to all other knowledge. Teaching students to read by the end of third grade is the single most important task assigned to elementary schools.” – American Federation of Teachers.s

At the end of third grade, the focus of education changes. Children are expected to learn other subjects by reading. If a child isn’t a proficient reader when he enters 4th grade, he won’t be able to keep up.

IDEA requires IEPs to include data about the child’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, the child’s needs, and the special education services, related services, and supplementary aids and services the school will provide. (Wrightslaw: All About IEPs, page 37)

If the team agrees that your child needs intensive reading instruction but refuses to include it in the child’s IEP, you have to assume they don’t plan to provide it.

What can you do?

First, write a short note or email to describe your child’s situation, what you requested (intensive reading instruction by a reading specialist), and what you were told (a reading specialist can’t provide your child with intensive reading instruction). Ask if your understanding of the school’s position is correct.

Second, request a copy of the school district policy about how special education services will be provided. Does the policy say special educators are the only staff who can provide special ed services? (I will be shocked if the school has a policy on this issue).

Third, if you do not receive a response to your email or note, write a follow-up note to request the policy. Attach a copy of your original email or message. At the top of this email or letter, type or write “SECOND REQUEST.Send copies to the principal and the special ed director.

Request a meeting to develop an IEP that provides the intensive reading instruction your child needs. Be polite. You want the team to realize that “help” from a special ed teacher was not sufficient. Your child has fallen further behind and needs intensive reading instruction from a highly-trained teacher. You need their help to correct the problem. Use your emotions as a source of energy, not a weapon.

Takeaways: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to provide a FAPE to children with disabilities with IEPs.  IDEA does not require special education teachers to provide all special education and related services.

Good luck. Be persistent. Don’t give up. Please keep us posted.

  1. I have a question that is somewhat similar and I assume populated and led me here because of my google search. What about a General Education teacher being written in on the Schedule of Services/Course Curriculum page as the person who provides those special education services (frequent check ins).

    The student does not have inclusion support nor is there any evidence that he requires it – he has no academic deficits and the setting is the General Education classroom. An accommodation saying the exact same thing was proposed but the parent wants it written this way. I’ve never run into this before and the advocate kept referencing a law that I have been unable to locate. I would love any guidance as to where this is written.

  2. Can a teacher dismiss a Behavioral health therapist that is provided by the insurance company? A child with Autism had a BHT who went to school with him to help with behavior and his teacher dismissed her without telling the parent. The parent found out from the BHT. This happened May 2023 and to date the teacher has not spoken to the parent about the dismissal of the provided service. Is this legal?

    • Was it that the teacher let the BHT know he/she is not allowed to provide services during the school day? My school district has this policy.

  3. I am also not sure where to ask this question. My son is currently in the 11th grade and he continues to not pass the math MCAS to meet the graduation requirements. I have asked repeatedly for support with his math as he continues to fall behind.They continue to only give me the special education teacher for support to help him build his skills to pass. My son is diagnosed with Dyscalculia Which adds an added struggle to his learning. What are my options at this point?

    • Depending on your state’s law, if he’s on an IEP then he may not have to meet the MCAS requirements for graduation. In my district we use a slang phrase “graduating on an IEP”. Essentially, what it means is the IEP recognizes that Student’s disability prohibits him/her/them from meeting X requirement for graduation. So, instead of meeting the same requirement as Student’s neurotypical peers, Student will instead meet Y & Z IEP goals of their IEP.

      I mean, think of it this way — if your student were paraplegic and the graduation requirement was to run a mile, would we refuse that student a diploma because they cannot run? The answer is obvious. So, you have to take that same philosophy for students with learning and behavioral disabilities – because not all disabilities are visible.

      If we would make graduation accommodations for a wheel-chair bound student to “run a mile”, then equitable parallel is to make graduation accommodations for a student with dyscalculia or dyslexia or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders! It’s all the same in that regard.

  4. I’m glad that you talked that special education would provide a proper process and tools that children would need for a great academic experience. Last night, my cousin informed me she was looking for a special education law that could help my cousin have an appropriate individualized educational program. She asked if I had any idea what would be the best education approach. I love this helpful academic tips article, I’ll tell her that it will be much better if she consults a trusted special education attorney as they can help provide more information about the process.

    • Steve S; Christin O The federal Dept. of Education funds 2 types of projects in every state to assist parents in working with schools. Parent Training, & Information projects do what their name says. Disability Rights projects have lawyers who take on cases for individual students, and “class action” type of cases. You can find the projects for your state at http://www.parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center

  5. When an IA is in a General Ed Classroom and there is no RSP teacher, do the IA support minutes count as SAI minutes? Our district said there is a new law that says it does. I’m in California and I can not find anything on it

    • Ramona, I’m going to give you a long answer to your short question. The problem I had with your question is that you used abbreviations for state-specific terms that are not familiar to people (RSP, SAI minutes) in other states. I had to use Google to translate the abbreviations.

      The child’s IEP must include the frequency, location, and duration of special education and related services and supplementary aids and services and modifications and supports the child will receive from the special ed teacher or related services provider.

      In CA, a special education teacher is referred to as a “RSP” (Resource Specialist Program”. An RSP or special ed resource teacher must:

      * have an undergraduate degree, at a minimum
      * satisfy the state’s basic skills requirements
      * demonstrate subject-matter competency
      * pass the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment test

      RSP teachers provide “SAI”, an abbreviation for “Specialized Academic Instruction.” As an IA (paraprofessional), you haven’t met the requirements to be an “RSP” (resource specialist) and are not qualified to provide “SAI” (specialized academic instruction).

      Source: https://sites.google.com/site/rspteachersurvivalguide/what-is-an-rsp-teacher-anyway
      It’s hard to believe California passed a law to make support from an IA equal to specialized academic instruction (SAI) from a certified special education teacher (RSP).

      To receive federal IDEA funds, states are required to submit info to the feds about whether their policies and practices comply with federal requirements in IDEA. Making an IA equal to a special education resource teacher (RSP) would violate federal requirements.

    • Hi Ramona, If an IA is under supervision by a credentialed RSP (special ed) teacher, then the minutes they push in to support students counts towards student SAI minutes.

      • Where I work, the area of need, minutes/frequency, type of classroom and provider are all laid out specifically. Such as math 30 min 5x weekly in sped class with sped teacher OR writing 15 min 2x daily with para in reg ed classroom with 15 min per week supervision by sped teacher. This is on the service minutes page. I have seen IEPs from many states and they are all the same regarding this.

    • Ask the teacher for the legal citation for the “new law”. Also, contact the Special Education Department for your state and ask to be connected with a person who can answer your question about a new law

  6. I am a Reading Specialist in Michigan. Does Michigan have separate rules in the MARSE that requires a teacher to be certified as a special education teacher to provide services? Or am I allowed to provide reading remeditaion for Dyslexic students with an IEP? I know I can within the Federal Law but MARSE seems to indicate that the person has to be endorsed in special education.

  7. I work in a charter school where students IEP’s state they receive inclusion reading in the gen ed environment by a special ed teacher however, they have aides in the classrooms to “provide” these services who have no training in special ed and do not even know which students are special ed. I know this is doing a disservice to these kids but when I say that they are not providing them their appropriate services, I am told that they are. Is this true?

  8. I am an inclusion teacher looking for solutions to providing successful services/instruction to students with disabilities. Is there any legal restriction to a general ed teacher also being the provider for special education services to students in an inclusion classroom if the teacher has dual certification in special ed AND gen ed? This model would include a lower class size so specialized instruction was possible. We are looking at more effective ways to make sure our special education students are getting the instruction they need in our secondary schools.

  9. I’m a dyslexia teacher at a new charter school in Texas. I have questions on the location of services to be provided. I’m going over Dyslexia services on the students services page. Some students location states (general education) other students location of service states (special Education) I was told I need to pull all of the students out for Dyslexia services. Some students have 45 minutes 5x a week. I feel that’s a lot to be pulling them out of classes they love. It’s my understanding that if on the service page, if the location is stated as General education then the students can be seen in their general ed class for dyslexia service. If the location on the service page states (special education ) as the location of the service to be provided, then I need to pull them out to service them in a group where all the other students have an IEP.
    Which way is the correct one?

    • As a teacher who is responsible for teaching kids with dyslexia, you must know you need to individualize instruction, depending on each student’s needs. I don’t see how that would work in either scenario.

      If you are trying to teach kids in a class where other subjects are being taught at the same time, your dyslexic student will be distracted. How can you individualize instruction, assuming that you understand the need to do this.

      Your other option is to pull students out and teach them (please, you do NOT “service them”) in groups of “other students who have an IEP”?

      These proposals are completely at odds with over 70 years of research about how to teach kids with dyslexia and guarantee your dyslexic students will NOT learn to read, write and spell, but will become even more demoralized.

  10. I’m a SPED para w/no SPED certified teacher on staff. I am being required to serve both math & reading minutes w/zero instruction to 10 students. In addition, my campus pulls me repeatedly to cover gen ed staff shortages vs meeting w/my students. Is any part of this legal [in Dallas, Texas]. I KNOW these students are actively ‘falling thru the cracks’/not having their needs met. This is making me physically ill.
    Please, PLEASE advise.

    • This is a violation of federal, and TX rules. (The IEP is not being followed.) Obviously, you care about the kids, but you have no control over the lack of staff. I suggest that you write the principal, & special ed director about the situation. As a caring, & loyal employee, you are simply bringing this situation to their attention. You may have some thoughts on what might help you, & the students until more staff can be found. I am with the federally funded parent training & information project for TX.

  11. I am a student teacher working as an aide. I do not have any certifications. A student in my classroom recently had an IEP meeting during which Wilson Reading was added to her IEP for 40 minutes per day. I am being told that I need to provide all of the services (40 minutes per day). I looked at the Wilson Reading website that says people implementing the program should be Level 1 certified by Wilson Reading prior to implementing the program to ensure fidelity which has a direct impacts student progress.

    My question – does the IEP service require an appropriately certified person to provide the service?

    • Lisa, the district, and possibly you could end up in a complaint of not following the program with “fidelity”, leading to a lack of or limited progress.

    • Quick answer: Yes. The child’s IEP says the child will receive “40 minutes a day of Wilson Reading.” I can’t provide Wilson Reading or do surgery, or extract teeth because I haven’t been properly trained. You are in the same boat.

      The Wilson Professional Learning Program describes the knowledge and skills required by a “systematic, multisensory, structured language approach” like the Wilson Professional Learning Program, as described in What Are the Benefits of Wilson Professional Learning?

      Reading is the gateway skill – children need to be proficient readers before learning history, literature, science, math, etc. If you think about it, the fact that most beginning teachers don’t know how to teach kids to read – the gateway skill – is shocking and sad.

      I hope you will get trained in a program like the Wilson Reading Program. You may have to pay for this training on your own. The cost will be repaid many times. As a teacher who took the initiative to get trained in Wilson, you will be in demand.

    • On the services page it should say who’s providing the service, more than likely it says special Ed teacher.
      I am surprised that they put Wilson on the IEP. That’s a no no. They should have pull out reading, small group, multisensory approach.
      Look into Orton Gillingham/ Science of Reading approaches to reading.

  12. I’m not sure where to post my question… I’m a SETSS provider. The school I work in has a very experienced reading specialist. I’ve observed some of his sessions, it’s a real shame he’s not certified. Question: I expect to be out on maternity leave, and I was thinking that this guy would be a very good substitute for some of my cases. Am I allowed to set up the program and plans, supervise him remotely, and have him do the actual one on one work, obviously with everyone’s permission… I am just asking about the legal side of it, as I don’t want to look like an utter fool suggesting this… Or do I need a certified replacement?

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