About Special Education
What is Special Education?
How do I know if my child is eligible for special education services?
eligibility of a student for special education and related services is based on
a comprehensive evaluation process. That process includes considerations of
assessments, information based on how well the student understands the
curriculum, observation reports by educational professionals, teacher
information, information provided by parents, and other relevant information.
parents of the student, the student's teacher, the school administrator, a team
of qualified special education professionals and other professionals who work
with the student participate in the evaluation process to determine whether the
student has a disability and is in need of special education and related
services. Related services include speech and language therapy, occupational
therapy, and physical therapy.
The determination of whether a student may have a disability is made by the student's parents and a team of qualified professionals which may include:
- a school administrator, the student's teacher, or a regular classroom teacher qualified to teach a student of his or her age if the student does not have a regular teacher; or, for a student of less than school age, an individual qualified by the school system to teach a student of his or her age;
- a special educator; a school system representative;
- and at least one person qualified to conduct individual diagnostic examinations of children, such as a school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, occupational therapist, or physical therapist.
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How do I know if my child is eligible for special education services?
What happens at the beginning of the process that determines whether my child needs special education or related services?
Before any decisions are made about whether a student needs special education services, a teacher or group of teachers at your student's school will work with parents/guardians in a process called "collaborative problem solving" or CPS. This process promotes the success of all students in the general education setting. Depending on your student's needs, the teacher or teachers will develop an intervention plan for assisting the student and document the impact of that intervention.
If your student's outcome does not improve, the case may be referred to a team based in the school, known as the Educational Management Team, or EMT. This team is made up of MCPS educators with expertise in teaching and learning, problem solving, and interventions. The team meets regularly and acts as a resource to all school staff members regarding students who are not meeting academic or behavior expectations.
The purpose of the EMT process is to ensure that all general education resources are being used to benefit the student and that the interventions are targeted and coordinated to help them achieve. An EMT may recommend a screening for consideration of special education services. Parents/guardians are critical participants throughout these processes.
What does it mean to receive special education services?
In general, special education services provide specially designed instruction that involves modifications to the curriculum itself and/or the way the curriculum is taught to meet the specific needs of the student. Other special education-related services such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy may also be needed. These are just a few of the related services that could be provided.
What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
Commonly referred to as an IEP, an individualized education program is a written plan that is designed for any student who receives special education and related services. IEPs are required for every special education student under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. The IEP describes the goals that are set for the
student over the course of the school year and spells out any special supports needed to help achieve those goals. Parents/guardians are an important part of the IEP process.
What is the difference between an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a Section 504 Plan?
Both students with IEPs and students with 504 plans have a documented disability or impairment. For students with an IEP, their disability has a significant educational impact, and requires the provision of direct specialized instruction, in addition to supplementary aids and services. Students with 504 plans have a documented impairment which substantially limits their ability to perform a major life activity. The major life activity may or may not be directly related to learning (i.e., a physical impairment that impacts mobility, but not learning). Students with 504 plans require targeted accommodations so they are able to access their educational program in the same manner their non-disabled peers do. Both processes require an evaluation by a duly constituted problem solving team.
How do I know when or if my child no longer requires special education services?
In time, a student may no longer need special education services and may exit from a special education program. The IEP team must conduct an evaluation before determining that a student no longer requires special education services.
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Terms and Acronyms
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written statement and a legal document of the educational program designed to meet a student's individual needs. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) develops standards-based IEPs, which contain many components, including present levels of educational and functional performance, testing and instructional accommodations, goals and objectives, and many other legally defined elements.
Every student who receives special education services must have an IEP. The IEP will be reviewed and revised (if necessary) at least once each year at an annual review meeting. Parents/guardians are invited to participate in all IEP team meetings.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures two basic rights of eligible students with disabilities: (1) the right to a free appropriate public education, and (2) the right to that education in the least restrictive environment.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA 97) was reauthorized and is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA or IDEA).
The new IDEIA amendments resulted in significant changes in the way public schools refer, evaluate, identify, serve, and discipline students with disabilities. IDEIA incorporates most of the No Child Left Behind Act requirements for students with disabilities and emphasizes school accountability for ensuring they have access to, and are successful in, the regular education curriculum.
Least Restrictive Environment: Implementing the IDEA provision of Least Restrictive Environment means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as "supplementary aids and services, " along with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless a student's IEP requires some other arrangement.
The regular classroom in the school the student would attend if not disabled is the first placement option considered for each student with disabilities before a more restrictive placement is considered.
Definitions of Disabilities
A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three, which adversely affects a student's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences.
Autism does not apply if a student's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the student has an emotional disability.
Most practitioners and educators believe autism is a “spectrum” disorder, a group of disorders with similar features, which can range from mild to severe: referred to as “Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD).
A hearing impairment that is so severe that the student is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, that adversely affects a student's educational performance.
Deaf – Blindness
Simultaneous hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for students with deafness or students with blindness.
For children from birth to age three (under IDEA Part C) and children from ages three through seven (under IDEA Part B), the term developmental delay, as defined by each State, means a delay in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development, or adaptive (behavioral) development.
A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time, and to a marked degree, that adversely affects a student's educational performance:
- An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors;
- An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;
- Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
- A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression;
- A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.
Emotional disability includes schizophrenia. The term does not apply to student who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they have an emotional disability.
An impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a student's educational performance but that is not included under the definition of deafness in this section.
Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period that adversely affects a student's educational performance.
A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a student's educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g., cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).
Other Health Impairment
Having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment.
Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia, and Tourette's syndrome.
Specific Learning Disability
A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. It includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
Speech or Language Impairment
A communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that adversely affects a student's educational performance.
Traumatic Brain Injury
An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a student's educational performance.
Traumatic brain injury applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory, perceptual, and motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing, and speech.
Traumatic brain injury does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.
An impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a student's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.
Concomitant impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness or intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments. Multiple disabilities does not include deaf-blindness.
An Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
documents and guides the early intervention process for young students with disabilities and their families before they enter kindergarten. It contains
information about the services necessary to facilitate a student's development
and enhance the family's capacity to support the student's development. Through
the IFSP process, family members and service providers work as a team to plan,
implement, and evaluate services specific to the family's concerns, priorities,
and available resources. A service coordinator then helps the family by
coordinating the services outlined in the IFSP.
Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is an educational right of children with disabilities which is
guaranteed by the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 and IDEA. Under the IDEA, FAPE is defined as an
educational program that is individualized to a specific student, designed to
meet that student's unique needs, provides access to the general curriculum,
meets the grade-level standards established by the state, and from which the
student receives educational benefit. To provide FAPE to a student with a
disability, schools must provide students with an education, including
specialized instruction, and related services that prepares the student for
further education, employment, and independent living.
Extended School Year (ESY) services
are provided beyond the regular school year to eligible students receiving
special education services. ESY services are designed to meet specific
objectives in a student’s IEP. ESY is not
simply the extension of the school year, an automatic summer school placement,
or a summer enrichment program, nor does every student with a disability
require ESY. In fact, ESY may be appropriate for a relatively small number of
students with disabilities. However, the IEP team is legally obligated to
consider and evaluate the appropriateness of ESY eligibility at the annual
review meeting for any student receiving special education services. ESY
services vary in type, intensity, location, inclusion of related services, and
length of time, depending on the student’s needs.
Facts and Statistics
Identification and Evaluation Process
What is a screening meeting?
At a screening Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting, the IEP team reviews information from the school-based problem-solving team which includes, but is not limited to, existing information
(report cards, work samples, state, county, or teacher-made assessments), and information from parents/guardians, and determines if an educational disability is suspected.
If a disability is suspected, the team determines the need for further assessment. The school must obtain parent/guardian consent for the recommended assessments.
Who can refer my student for a screening?
Parents/guardians or a school staff member may refer a student to the screening IEP team. Prekindergarten students who do not attend a Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) school are referred through Child Find, a service that locates, identifies, and refers young students with disabilities, ages 3 to 5, in need of early intervention. Child Find services, which are provided by states, are required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Very young students from birth to age 3 can be referred to the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program.
If an MCPS student does not progress as expected after implementation of the interventions recommended by the school-based problem solving team, they may be referred in writing to the school’s IEP team.
If an analysis of the data indicates that the student has not made appropriate academic progress and the staff members or parent/guardian has reason to believe that the student may have an
educational disability that requires special education, and possibly related services, then a referral may be made by the parent/guardian or staff members, following the school-based problem solving process.
Parents/guardians may refer students enrolled in a private or religious school, or who are being home-schooled, by contacting the Private Religious Unit at 301-517-8283 in the Division of Business, Fiscal and Information Systems.
What does an evaluation include?
Evaluation doesn't just mean testing. In conducting an evaluation, the IEP team and individual assessors must use a variety of tools and strategies to gather
relevant functional, developmental, and academic information—including information provided by the parent/guardian—which may assist in determining:
- if the student has a disability;
- what the student’s educational needs are;
- what should be in the student’s IEP, including information related to helping the student be involved in and make progress in the general education classroom or, for prekindergarten students, to participate in a program that matches their developmental needs.
The student must be assessed in all areas of the suspected disability. The determination of whether the student has a disability or the determination of an
appropriate education program will not be based upon a single measure or assessment.
Assessments are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis and are provided and administered in the student’s native
language, when possible, or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the student knows and can do academically.
What is an independent evaluation?
An independent educational evaluation (IEE) is an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the student in question. In this case, an IEE would not be conducted by an employee of MCPS or the Montgomery County Infants and Toddlers Program.
A parent/guardian may request an IEE if they are in disagreement with an assessment conducted by the school system.
An IEE may be an educational, psychological, speech, or other type of assessment used in the diagnosis or assessment of strengths and weaknesses of students with disabilities.
Can parents pay for a private evaluation?
A private evaluation is an evaluation that is conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school system. Parents/guardians who choose to have a private
evaluation completed must pay for the cost of the evaluation unless the school system agrees, or is ordered to pay based on a due process decision. The private evaluation is submitted in writing and reviewed by the IEP team.
What is an initial evaluation IEP meeting?
Once a screening IEP team suspects that a student may have an educational disability, an evaluation IEP team meeting must be held to confirm the existence of the
disability and, if so, determine whether the student requires special education and, possibly, related services.
The referral, screening, evaluation planning, and evaluation meeting where eligibility is determined is considered the complete evaluation process.
The initial evaluation IEP team meeting must be held no later than 60 calendar days from the screening IEP team’s receipt of the parent/guardian authorization for assessments
or no later than 90 calendar days from the date of receipt of the initial referral from the parent/guardian or the school-based problem solving team, whichever is
sooner. The parent/guardian must receive 10 calendar days' written notice of the evaluation IEP team meeting.
What is an annual review IEP meeting?
At the annual review IEP meeting, the team, including parents/guardians, makes decisions about special services for the coming year. Decisions are documented on the IEP forms which include information provided to, or by, the parents/guardians, the student’s anticipated needs, and participation of district or state assessments held during the course of the new IEP. Extended School Year (ESY) decisions will be made.
Appropriate staff members will discuss transition planning for students who will turn 14 or 15 during the course of the IEP. Transition plans summarize options for students with disabilities as they exit high school. For a student who will turn 16 or older in the upcoming year, appropriate staff members will also discuss the draft transition
plan and its relationship to assessment data, information provided by the parent/guardian, and anticipated postsecondary services.
Staff members will discuss IEP goals and objectives that have been developed and relate them to the assessment data, including information provided by the parent/guardian.
Revisions are made by the IEP team to the draft goals and objectives.
Provided that the parent/guardian has had ample time to review the goals and objectives, the IEP team may approve the goals and objectives and complete the decision-making process
regarding frequency, location, and duration of services, and placement decisions.
Parents/guardians receive the Procedural Safeguards-Parental Rights Brochure, a required notice that provides important information on a parent/guardian right to be involved in planning their student’s special education. Parents/guardians will also receive the Extended School Year brochure, if that was discussed.
Can I request an IEP meeting at any time?
Yes, a parent/guardian can request an IEP meeting at any time. However, not all discussions about a student receiving special education services require an IEP team
meeting. You may also request a formal parent/guardian conference, or to meet with any of your student’s teachers, related service providers, or building
IEP team meetings are appropriate when considering new information that may result in revisions to the IEP, to discuss concerns about the student’s current IEP or progress, or
other situations that directly impact the IEP.
Parent/guardian conferences are appropriate to request information about your student’s IEP or