Services and supports are based on each student's need and eligibility as outlined by Federal and State law. The Individualized Education Program (IEP), is a written document that's developed for each public school child who is eligible for special education.
Before an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can be developed your child must be evaluated to determine eligibility for special education. By federal law, a multidisciplinary team must determine that (1) she's a child with a disability, (2) the disability impacts access to the general curriculum, and (3) she requires special education and related services. General curriculum is defined as skills and courses of study available to all students, not specifically for advanced coursework.
A student must qualify for special education services as an individual with a disability in one of thirteen disabilities identified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These are:
- Emotionally Disturbed
- Hard of Hearing
- Intellectual Disability
- Multiple Handicapped
- Orthopedically Impaired
- Other Health Impaired
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech-Language Impaired
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visually Impaired
*Please note that school identification is not the equivalent of a clinical diagnosis
Can a medical diagnosis qualify a student for special education?
Your child may have a medical diagnosis for a disability and still not qualify for special education. A child's disability must also require instruction and/or services which cannot be provided with modification of the regular school program. Cal. Educ. Code § 56026(b); see D.R. ex rel. Courtney R. v. Antelope Valley Union High Sch. Dist., 746 F. Supp. 2d 1132, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2010) (“Though [child’s] orthopedic impairment adversely affects her education, [the child] does not meet an essential qualification for a remedy under IDEA; she cannot show a need for special education.”) .
What are the measures that are taken to determine the eligibility of a special education student?
When determining eligibility, many districts may evaluate whether a child’s condition negatively affects his or her educational performance. Although grades and standardized test scores may be one measure of educational performance, California requires that a child be assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, social and emotional status. Cal. Educ. Code § 56320(f). Districts must also consider whether the child’s needs require special education, or if they can be met with other accommodations. Under California law, if a child's needs can be adequately met through nonspecial educational services, then the child does not qualify as an individual with exceptional needs and is not eligible for special education. Cal. Educ. Code § 56026(b).
What factors are taken into consideration when determining a student’s eligibility for special education?
In general, to qualify for special education in California, (i) the child must have one or more eligible disabilities; (ii) the disability must negatively affect her/his educational performance; and (iii) the disability must require special education and related services. See Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist. v. Wartenberg By & Through Wartenberg, 59 F.3d 884, 899 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Cal. Educ. Code §§ 56026(a)-(b). California law also requires that the child meets certain disability criteria and age requirements. Cal. Educ. Code §§ 56026(c)-(d).
A child is not eligible for special education if the determining factor in the child's exceptional needs is a lack of appropriate instruction in reading or math, or limited English proficiency. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(b)(5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.306(b). A child may not be eligible for special education if his or her educational needs are primarily due to limited English proficiency, a lack of instruction in reading or math, temporary physical disabilities, social maladjustment, or environmental, cultural, or economic factors. Cal. Educ. Code § 56026(e).
What type of education are children with a qualifying disability entitled to? What is a “free appropriate public education”?
Under both federal and state law, school districts must provide each student with a disability with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE means special education and related services that: are provided for free to the student/family, meet appropriate standards, include preschool through secondary education, and follow an Individual Education Program (IEP). 20 U.S.C. § 1401(9); 34 C.F.R. § 300.17; Cal. Educ. Code § 56040. Special education must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE). When it is appropriate, students with disabilities should be educated with students who are not disabled, instead of separating them from other students. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.114(a); Cal. Educ. Code § 56040.1.
What is specially-designed instruction?
Special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of a child with disabilities. 34 C.F.R. § 300.39; Cal. Educ. Code § 56031(a). Federal definition: Specially-designed instruction means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and to ensure access to the general curriculum, so that s/he can meet educational standards. 34 C.F.R. § 300.39(b)(3).
California definition: In addition to the federal definition of special education, California requires that special education be provided to those students with disabilities whose educational needs cannot be met with modification of the regular instructional program. Cal. Educ. Code § 56031.
What is an appropriate educational program?
An “appropriate” educational program and placement is one that is designed to meet a student’s unique needs as described in her/his individualized education program (IEP) and that allows him/her to obtain CALIFORNIA SPECIAL EDUCATION GUIDE © Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law 2015 Page 4 “educational benefit.” In California, educational benefit means that the child is making progress toward achieving the goals in his/her IEP. County of San Diego v. Cal. Special Ed. Hearing Office, 93 F.3d 1458, 1462 (9thCir. 1996). In addition to the IEP goals, the student should be involved in the general curriculum and making progress in it. Cal. Educ. Code § 56345(a)(4)(B).
Where should a child receive his/her special education and related services? What is a “least restrictive environment”?
Special education must be provided in a least restrictive environment. Whenever it is appropriate, children with disabilities must be educated with their nondisabled peers. Students with disabilities may be removed from the regular educational environment only when their disabilities are such that modifications, supplementary aids, and services are not sufficient in the general education environment. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(5); 34 C.F.R. § 300.114(a); Cal. Educ. Code § 56040.1. Specialized education can be offered in the mainstream classroom, in a resource room, at home, or in hospitals or residential programs. Special education also includes related services. Who may decide the type of learning environment that a student needs? Special education students should be allowed “maximum interaction with the general school population” whenever it is appropriate for both the special education student and his/her nondisabled classmates. Cal. Educ. Code § 56001(g). Special education students should also receive their education in age-appropriate environments with nondisabled peers. Cal. Dep’t of Educ., Office of Special Education, Policy Statement on Least Restrictive Environment (October 10, 1986). It is possible that a child’s needs cannot be adequately met in the general education classroom even with accommodations and services. In that case, the IEP team may decide that some combination of a specialized learning environment and the general classroom, or a separate setting, is necessary.