What is Special Education?
The term special education means different things to different people because it is a highly individualized endeavor. As an actual definition, the term special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in the classroom and other settings. Special education is often thought of as a vehicle through which children and youth who have disabilities are guaranteed to receive within public education instruction that is specifically designed to help them reach their learning potential (Friend, 2006).
In addition to specialized instruction, many children and youth are in need of “related services” to meet their unique needs as learners. The term related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services, including speech/language pathology and audiology services; interpreting services; psychological services; physical and occupation therapy; recreation, including therapeutic recreation; social work services; school nurse services designed to enable a child with a disability to receive a free and appropriate public education as described in the individualized education program [IEP] of the child.
Since 1975, federal special education law has defined the field of special education on a national level. Every few years, the US Congress reauthorizes the law and has expanded the provisions and scope of the field. In 1990, the amendments renamed the law as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the name by which it is currently known. The law contains core principles to ensure the rights of students with disabilities and their parents in the education system. These principles include zero reject, free appropriate public education, least restrictive environment, nondiscriminatory evaluation, parent and family rights, and procedural safeguards. The specific provision that most often presents itself at the local level is “least restrictive environment.” IDEA now presumes that general education settings are the least restrictive environment (LRE) for the majority of students with disabilities, and educators must justify any instances in which students with disabilities are not educated there. At Winnacunnet High School, the vast majority of students with disabilities are educated with their nondisabled peers in general education settings, such as Science, Social Studies, Math, English, Art, Music, and Physical Education.
Who Receives Special Education?
NH Rules for the Education of Children with Disabilities specifies categories of educational disabilities, and only students with these disabilities are eligible for special education services. The thirteen categories listed in IDEA include the following:
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Emotional Disturbance
- Visual impairment (including blindness)
- Hearing impairment
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other Health Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Multiple disabilities
- Developmental delays
Special Emphasis on Transition
High school is all about transitions, especially the most significant – graduation! In recognition of this significant milestone, the US Congress placed special emphasis on Transition Services for young adults with disabilities. According to the most recent legislation (IDEA 2004), “Transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that – (A) is designed to be a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (B) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests. Under IDEA 2004, IEPs must include transition services for the child by age 16 (published by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition and The Pacer Center).
Students will demonstrate:
- Functional communication skills
- Functional math skills
- Self-advocacy skills
- Active community participation
- Effective decision making
- Awareness of strengths and challenges
- Respect for self and others
- Ability to access community resources
- Independent living skills