Video Summary: What is Special Education?

This video reviews the basics of the special education process.  Special Education is the set of rules and processes that Congress created within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help provide a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. Congress did this because it found that, while the regular curriculum of the average classroom could adequately meet the needs of nondisabled children, children with disabilities were often unable to learn in the regular classroom environment because of the their specific needs.

Special education is a specialized curriculum designed around the needs of children with disabilities. These curricula often cater to the individual child, and provide services such as physical and occupational therapy, learning aids such as laptops, and a variety of other tools and services that adapt the school’s teaching style and classroom to help the child learn in the regular classroom environment, or in a specialized environment when necessary.

The chart in this video represents the different groups of children as circles, and the places them along a spectrum of needs that require different combinations of special and regular classroom settings. The largest group is “All Students” which represents all students being educated under the jurisdiction of the public school system. The next circle represents Response to Intervention (RTI) children, which require a minimal intervention to fully take advantage of their education (for more information on RTI, please see this section).

Next are 504 students (named after section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973), who have any kind of disabilities, including trouble breathing (such as with Asthma), walking, running, or learning. Finally, we have children covered by the IDEA, which covers disabilities that affect learning. The following sections will mostly cover IDEA students, but it’s possible that your child’s disability will also be covered by 504, RTI, and other kinds of benefits. But regardless of what acts or services your child is covered by, the goal of special education should always be to place your child in the regular classroom as often as possible.

The official definition of special education is located in Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 300.39. We’ve excerpted the section, and will summarize it and other key parts of the CFR for you in this and other videos. [Note: The symbol “§” stands for symbol, and “§§”]

§ 300.39 Special education.

(a) General. (1) Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including—

(i) Instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home, in hospitals and institutions, and in other settings; and

(ii) Instruction in physical education.

(2) Special education includes each of the following, if the services otherwise meet the requirements of paragraph (a)(1) of this section—

(i) Speech-language pathology services, or any other related service, if the service is considered special education rather than a related service under State standards;

(ii) Travel training; and

(iii) Vocational education.

(b) Individual special education terms defined. The terms in this definition are defined as follows:

(1) At no cost means that all specially-designed instruction is provided without charge, but does not preclude incidental fees that are normally charged to nondisabled students or their parents as a part of the regular education program.

(2) Physical education means—

(i) The development of—

(A) Physical and motor fitness;

(B) Fundamental motor skills and patterns; and

(C) Skills in aquatics, dance, and individual and group games and sports (including intramural and lifetime sports); and

(ii) Includes special physical education, adapted physical education, movement education, and motor development.

(3) Specially designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child under this part, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction—

(i) To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability; and

(ii) To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.

(4) Travel training means providing instruction, as appropriate, to children with significant cognitive disabilities, and any other children with disabilities who require this instruction, to enable them to—

(i) Develop an awareness of the environment in which they live; and

(ii) Learn the skills necessary to move effectively and safely from place to place within that environment (e.g., in school, in the home, at work, and in the community).

(5) Vocational education means organized educational programs that are directly related to the preparation of individuals for paid or unpaid employment, or for additional preparation for a career not requiring a baccalaureate or advanced degree.

We have already covered aspects of the official definition, but we should note that the definition of “special education” also means any services provided to your child because of the special needs or disabilities should come at no cost you or your child (you are still responsible for any fees associated with services provided to nondisabled children under this definition).

§ 300.34 Related services.

(a)General.Related services means transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, including therapeutic recreation, early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, orientation and mobility services, and medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.

Part (a) of section 300.34 outlines how your child is entitled to related services. Related services includes anything necessary to help your child learn within their specialized program, including any transport, interpretations, therapy, or parent counseling and training they may need.

§ 300.42 Supplementary aids and services.

Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with §§ 300.114 through 300.116.

This last section covers supplementary aids. Supplementary aids are services or tools provided to your child learn along with nondisabled children. The difference between a related and supplementary aid/service is that a related services simply helps your child learn with their disability, while a supplementary one helps keep them in the regular classroom.

In the following sections, we will cover some of the more specific aspects of special education, but for now, keep in mind that the general definition of special education as you read more about how the special education process works.