“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?
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.