Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Happy Anniversary Special Education

My first year teaching, in 1974, I had 42 sixth graders in one self-contained sixth-grade classroom.  I’m sure some of them would’ve been special education, but no such programs existed.  In fact, I took a night class that year that introduced me to such things as learning disabilities and emotional/behavior disorders.  I did the best I could for my kids.
Most educators today can’t remember a time like that when special education didn’t exist.  The rules for special education came from the enactment of Public Law 94-142 by the United States Congress 40 years ago.  That law became known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA.   It provided that all school aged youngsters would receive a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Now, 40 years after creation, special education is an accepted part of every school district’s responsibility.  We do everything we can to educate each child in his/her home school (LRE) so that they may interact and learn with with their non-special education peers to every degree possible.  Each child who meets the requirements for special education receives help under the guidance of his/her Individual Education Program, known as the IEP.
The vast majority – around 98% - of students with IEPs are capable or learning the regular curriculum and are on track for a high school diploma.

Some student IEP’s call for little if any special treatment or intervention.  The students are in a regular classroom.  They may need more time than others on a test.  They may need a special space to work or specially designed materials.

Some who need a little more help may be assigned to what we call a co-taught classroom.  That is a room with two teachers - a content area teacher and a special education teacher working together for the benefit of the whole class, some who have IEPs.  
Some students leave their classroom for various periods of time for special instruction.  They may meet with the Speech teacher a few days a week.  They may get extra help on one particular subject.  They may see a specialist to work on behavioral issues or physical therapy.

Students who are the lowest functioning or who have severe emotional/behavioral challenges may spend all or most of their time in a special class in their home school or in a regional or county program.

A handful of students are found to be best served by unique programs that are outside of Calvert County Public Schools.  Most get to their school by bus each day and travel as far as Baltimore.  A very few may attend private, residential schools. 

Special student needs have evolved over the years as new challenges become better understood.  Today we are seeing a huge increase in students with autism as well as emotional/behavior disorders.  These new challenges are met each day by a dedicated group of special educators with a variety of special skills.
In my career I’ve learned to appreciate the benefits of educating children in their home school.  I’ve seen some marvelous partnerships between regular and special education teachers.  I’ve also seen some marvelous partnerships and friendships between regular and special education students.  It’s a beautiful thing. 

Here’s to all our special education students and IDEA.  Our lives are richer knowing them.