The ABCs of Special Education
Federal and New Jersey law* requires that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) be available to all children with disabilities from age 3 through 21 or high school graduation, whichever comes first. There are special rules for eligible children aged 3-5, who are classified as Preschool Disabled.
The process for providing special education services to a child with a disability begins with a written request for evaluations made to a school district’s director of special education or special services. Parents who believe their child is having serious problems in school can make a written request for school evaluations at any time.
In addition, the school district has a legal responsibility to identify and evaluate children who may need special education services. Teachers, administrators, other school staff and state agencies who work with children can also make a written request for the initial school evaluations. However, these evaluations may only be performed if the parent provides written consent.
Click here for information on the process school districts are required to follow for identification and referral of students with disabilities for special education services.
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
If the evaluation determines that a child needs special education services, a plan known as the Individualized Education Program (IEP) is then developed specially for that child.
Once a child turns 3, the New Jersey Department of Education is responsible for identifying and meeting the special education needs of the child. These services are delivered under the direction of the local school district. Services may continue until high school graduation or age 21, whichever occurs first.
For children eligible for special education services, a Child Study Team (CST) is responsible for developing and overseeing the child’s education. In all districts, the Child Study Team consists of a school psychologist, a learning disabilities teacher-consultant, a school social worker and, in certain cases, a speech-language specialist. Additional specialists may be added as needed. In addition, each child has an Individualized Educational Program team, which is responsible for developing the plan in accordance with the child’s evaluations, observations and the parents’ input.
Parents’ participation in a child’s education is critical for every child, especially for children with special education needs. That is why it is important for parents to attend all scheduled meetings about their child.
Parents should also be active members of the IEP team and should be involved with the development of their child’s program. In order for the child to receive services, parents must agree in writing to the first IEP developed for a child. Parents have the right to disagree with decisions made by the school district about their child’s individual program. These “procedural rights” include mediation and “due process hearings,” which are described later in this guide.
Source: Advocates for Children of New Jersey, Basic Guide to Special Education, 2011 Edition; Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ).
*The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. Section 1400 et.seq. and New Jersey Department of Education Administrative Code: N.J.A.C. 6A:14