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Special education: Two words that stimulate a trail of questions for parents whose children are found to be in need of such services by the local school district.
Take the abbreviations IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), FAPE (Free and Appropriate Education) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind). They define the special education laws school districts are required to follow in order to provide students with a proper education.
While the laws can be complex and overwhelming, it all boils down to finding some time or at least get an idea of what the laws are so parents can use them to obtain the appropriate education program their child needs.
For that reason, parents may want to start with Peter and Pamela Darr Wright, the husband and wife team from Virginia that co-wrote a series of books to help parents of children with disabilities titled "Wrightslaw: Special Education Law," "Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy," "Wrightslaw: No Child Left Behind" and "Wrightslaw: IDEA 2004."
Peter Wright is an attorney who represents children with special educational needs.
Pam Wright is a psychotherapist who has worked with children and their families since the 1970s.
Together, the Wrights travel the country, teaching parents how to interpret special education laws and regulations and giving them the guidance and confidence in doing so.
The two-day program, sponsored by the Lancaster County Center for Autism Resources & Education, is geared to all families of children who receive special education services, educators, administrators, health care providers, therapists, advocates and attorneys.
Wright said the program will address how to use special education statutes and regulations to get answers to questions such as how to use tests to measure educational progress, chart out test scores, write Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and objectives, create paper trails, write effective letters and use supportive strategies for appropriate special education programs.
Diagnosed in the second grade with multiple learning disabilities, Peter Wright received intensive remediation at the pursuit of his parents.
Today, children receiving special education services are required under IDEA to undergo an initial evaluation used to determine if they need special education and related services in school.
According to Robert K. Crabtree, special education and disability attorney from Boston, Mass., the school system is required under IDEA to fully evaluate any child who may need special education services "in all areas related to the suspected disability, including if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status and motor disabilities."
Before the school does so, however, and before providing or changing special education services, it must notify the parents in writing.
For the first evaluation and placement, Crabtree said schools must also obtain parental consent.
Once the paperwork is signed, school districts conduct an evaluation of the student using various educational diagnostics, certified school psychologists and others with expertise in the suspected area of disability.
From that evolves the IEP, a lengthy document that describes the special education and related services specifically designed to meet the unique educational needs of a student with a disability.
It's developed by a committee of school officials and the parents and contains the annual goals and short-term objectives based on the student's present level of educational performance required to place them in the proper setting along with the timeframe for the services to be rendered.
That's why the IEP is considered to be the cornerstone of IDEA, which ensures educational opportunity for students with disabilities.
While the list of rules and regulations covered under each act can include a lot of reading, some 200 or more pages for some, parents wanting to know more can turn to the Wrightslaw Web site at www.wrightslaw.com.