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>Special Education Process
An overview of the “Special Education Process” in Fauquier County Public Schools
Special education refers to free and appropriate specialized instruction designed to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. Before a student may be offered special education services, the student must be evaluated by a team of specialists and found eligible. This initial evaluation may be requested by a parent, member of the school system or any concerned community member knowledgeable of the child. Evaluation may not begin until written permission has been received from the parent/guardian of the child being evaluated. The evaluations are designed to gather formal assessment data to enable a team to assess whether a student meets the criteria for at least one of the special education disability categories. Moreover, special education services must be necessary for the student to benefit from his/her education experience.
In order to benefit from special education services, some students require the additional support of “related services”. Examples of related services are: special transportation, psychological services, physical/occupational therapy, adaptive P.E. and speech/language therapy. By law, special education and any necessary related services must be provided to eligible students from the ages of 2 through 21.
In order to guarantee that the needs of eligible students are addressed and that special education services are not rendered to those whose needs could be met in a general education curriculum without support, the special education process is organized following a set of federally defined operational procedures: screening, child find, child study, assessment, eligibility, IEP development and implementation, and periodic review. The following provides a brief outline of the process.
- All children (through grade three), within 60 business days of initial enrollment are to be screened in speech, voice, and language to determine if a referral of an evaluation for special education and related services is indicated.
- All children within 60 business days of initial enrollment are to be screened in the areas of vision and hearing. In addition, the vision and hearing of all children in grades three, seven and ten are to be screened during the school year.
- All children (through grade three), within in 60 business days of initial enrollment are to be screened for fine and gross motor functions to determine if a referral for an evaluation for special education and related services is indicated.Children are to be referred to the special education administrator or designee no more than five business days after screening or re-screening if results suggest that a referral for evaluation for special education and related services is indicated.
Child find is the program which requires all school systems to make active and ongoing efforts to identify, locate and evaluate children who are in need of special education. FCPS actively seeks children by advertising in local papers, posting flyers, and sending notes home to parents of current students.
In FCPS, each school has its own child study team, a multidisciplinary group of professionals who meet regularly to discuss strategies for addressing individual student problems. Each team is led by a child study chairperson who is responsible for processing child study paperwork and providing leadership to the team. The purpose of the child study team is to focus on the needs of students experiencing educational difficulties and identify strategies and accommodations that will promote student success (Response to Intervention RtI). Child study teams attempt to exhaust all reasonable alternatives within the general education environment before making a referral to special education.
Anyone within the school system or a parent may refer a child for child study. After reviewing the concerns of the referring source, the team will make recommendations which the child study chair will share with all of the educators involved with the child. The child study team will then follow up to gauge the success of the strategies and will reformulate as necessary to ensure success. If the team is unsuccessful in finding a solution in the general education environment, the team may refer the child for a special education evaluation. Parents must be informed of their rights and grant written permission before the evaluation begins.
A referral to special education results in a multidisciplinary evaluation used as the formal basis for determining the student’s eligibility for special education. An eligibility meeting is scheduled within 65 business days of the referral. Parental permission must be obtained for initial eligibility evaluations. Initial eligibilities may include medical, academic, psychological, socio-cultural and speech/language assessments. Atypical concerns may require an assessment by a specialist outside of the school system.
Once the assessments are complete, the eligibility committee meets to review all available data and make a decision. The eligibility committee is comprised of professionals who either conducted or are knowledgeable about the assessments given, a special education administrator, student’s parents and educational staff who are knowledgeable about the student. This team may be identical in make-up and nature to an IEP team. The terms are used interchangeably depending on the purpose of the meeting. But, the constituents of the team may be identical. Parents and the school system may invite anyone whom they believe can contribute to the discussion of the student’s eligibility in a meaningful way. The eligibility committee members are:
- student’s parents or guardian (student if appropriate)
- professionals representing the specialty areas in which assessments were completed
- special education administrator or designee
- general education teacher
- additional professionals invited by the parent or school system
The eligibility committee meets to present and discuss the results of the assessments. Using Virginia State Department of Education guidelines and local criteria the eligibility committee determines whether the student is eligible for special education services. To qualify a student must meet the criteria for an educational disability and it must also be determined that the student requires special education services in order to access the general education curriculum or to benefit from his/her educational experience within the school system.When a student is found not eligible for special education services, the assessment components and the committee’s discussion are used:
- to redirect the energies of the teaching staff in meeting the needs of the student in the general education curriculum using the information gleaned from the assessments
- to consider the student for eligibility as a disabled person under the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
If the student is found eligible for special education services, the parents of the student and the school personnel responsible for his/her educational services are notified. A committee composed of the student’s teachers, parents, an administrator or designee and other professionals as appropriate, then meet to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). An IEP is a legal contract between the school system and the student. Therefore, it should be developed thoughtfully and include the following:
- a summary of the student’s present level of performance (academic and functional)
- the student’s annual goals (short term objectives, benchmarks, for students working toward alternate achievement standards are to be included)
- short term objectives may be included in all students with a disability if the IEP team considers it necessary
- a summary of any related services to be provided
- beginning and ending date of services
- extent of the student’s participation (if any) in general education
- information (including accommodations if necessary) regarding the student’s participation in standardized testing
- a plan to facilitate the student’s transition from school to post-secondary options, in the year in which the student will turn 16 years of age, or earlier if the IEP team determines it appropriate
- An IEP must be in effect before special education and/or related services may be provided. Initial IEPs are developed and signed by the parent/guardian within 30 calendar days of the initial eligibility meeting.
All services and placements are provided based on the student’s individual needs and in the “least restrictive environment”. Placement decisions must be based on the student’s needs and not on the basis of what the school has available. The following list of placements gives a continuum of environments from the least to most restrictive:
- general education setting with monitoring or consultative services from special services staff
- resource services provided by special services staff in a general education setting
- resource services provided by special services staff in a separate setting
- self-contained classroom placement
- separate day treatment school placement
- home-based or home-bound services, residential placement, or hospital setting (the least number of students)
Parental Rights/Due Process
Parental rights are legally defined and dictated by the Federal/State Regulations. They exist to safeguard the rights of children, parents and school personnel in ensuring fair treatment for everyone involved in the special education process. Well-informed, involved parents are essential partners in planning, developing and implementing a positive educational plan for a child receiving special services. Copies of “Parental Rights in Special Education” provide a detailed explanation of the parents’ rights, and should be given to parents upon initial referral or parental request for evaluation and then once per year.