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Special Education

Special Education

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.

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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 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirements for students with disabilities and emphasizes school accountability for ensuring they have access to, and are successful in, the regular education curriculum.

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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.

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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.

Developmental Delay

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. 

Emotional Disability 

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.

Hearing Impairment

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.

Intellectual Disability  


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.

Orthopedic Impairment

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.

Visual Impairment

An impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a student's educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

Multiple Disabilities  

  • Cognitive
  • Sensory
  • Physical

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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