Navigating special education can be a complicated process, and a child’s path to an education is largely based on his or her specific needs.
York County school district leaders and representatives of local organizations addressed parent questions during a special education workshop earlier this month at the York County Library.
Here are the highlights:
Making a disability determination
If parents or guardians suspect their child may have a disability, they should first alert their child’s teacher, school counselor, assistant principal or the director of special services in the district, said Nancy Turner, director of exceptional student education for the Rock Hill school district.
Each district has a team that meets with parents to talk about concerns, gathers data on the child’s struggles and determines what strategies are best, Turner said. In Rock Hill, that team is the Response to Intervention Team.
In Clover, the Student Intervention Team is in charge of that process, said Laura Holland, executive director of special services for the Clover school district. The team collects data on the student’s progress. If the student is not progressing as the school believes the student should be, the team may make a referral for a special education evaluation. Parents also can request in writing to the district for their student be evaluated.
The parent then meets with a district team to determine if the school should proceed with an evaluation to see if the student is in need of special education accommodations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Holland said.
To be eligible for an Individualized Education Plan, a student must have a disability that falls under IDEA and the disability must require them to receive specialized instruction, Holland said.
An IEP is a plan that details what accommodations will be made for the student and what the child’s special education experience will be. Plans are specific to the student.
“At the special education referral (meeting), if there is not sufficient data to suggest that the child might be a child with a disability under the IDEA, the school district does not have to move forward with the evaluation,” Holland said. “It’s very much dependent upon the students’ needs and what data has been collected.”
If a district team determines the student does not need to be evaluated for IDEA, officials may instead recommend looking at accommodations under Section 504, an anti-discriminatory law protecting people with disabilities, Holland said.
That law is more broad than the 13 specific disabilities outlined in IDEA, which include speech impairment, emotional and intellectual disabilities, visual impairments and others.
If the district determines there is evidence the child may have a disability under IDEA, the district has, by law, 60 days from the date a parent gives consent to complete the evaluation, said Amy Maziarz, coordinator of special services for the Fort Mill school district. That timeline starts at or after the referral meeting.
After an evaluation, parents and district personnel meet again to go over the data and, if the student is eligible, create an IEP, Maziarz said.
Under IDEA, a student with an IEP is reevaluated every three years to determine if services are still needed. The student may be evaluated more often if a special review is requested by the special education teacher and/or parent. The IEP team must review the student’s education plan at least once a year.
Progress reports are provided to parents on a regular basis.
“There should be no surprise as a parent about what type of progress your child is making,” Maziarz said.
Students receiving accommodations under Section 504 also typically receive a written plan, Holland said.
Jennifer Rossi, an education advocate and parent, said parents should monitor if their student is excelling in one of his or her weaknesses and if the student is continuing to struggle. Rossi said her high school-aged son, who has an IEP, progressed in different areas as he got older, allowing some accommodations to be removed.
“We always look for lack of progress in an area, but sometimes you see increased progress in an area,” Rossi said. “You don’t want him to get remedial instruction for something he doesn’t need remedial instruction for.”
Turner said schools often see students on a plan progress.
“An IEP is a fluid process,” she said.
Students with dyslexia
Dyslexia is a learning disability that can affect reading fluency, writing, spelling and reading comprehension.
Signs of dyslexia include difficulty pronouncing words, learning the alphabet and remembering the name and shape of letters, according to the International Dyslexia Association.
All school districts are required to screen students for reading deficiencies three times a year in kindergarten and first grade, Holland said. Clover, along with other districts, screen older children as needed.
Dyslexia is not a category by itself under IDEA but is considered a learning disability in reading.
“Not only are we saying the word dyslexia openly and freely in schools now, there is training that is required up to a certain grade level,” said Kimaka Nichols-Graham with S.C. Legal Services, which provides civil legal services to low-income South Carolina residents.
Local districts have trained staff such as literary coaches, interventionists and teachers on dyslexia, Turner said.
Legislation now requires school districts to screen students and train certain staff on dyslexia, said state Rep. Raye Felder, R-Fort Mill, who stopped by the workshop.
“A screening is not a diagnosis,” Felder said. “By having this screening too we hope it will help us identify those students who need more advanced testing. There will be more continued emphasis on that type of screening to maybe even start screening earlier.”
The screening looks for reading deficiencies in areas such as decoding, or identifying individual sounds that make up words, and phonetics, or speech sounds, Holland said.
“Those types of things are generally what manifest initially with a student with dyslexia,” she said.
- South Carolina Autism Society: Provides case management services, assists parents with working with schools and navigating education for their child with autism and provides resources for children and adults living with autism. More information: Call 800-438-4790 or 864-609-4950, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit scautism.org.
- Bright Start: The organization serves children in York, Lancaster and Chester counties. All services are free to families. Bright Start assesses children birth to age 5 to determine their development needs, conducts home and daycare visits to coach caregivers, makes referrals for speech therapy, physical therapy and specialists as needed and hosts play groups to help with social development. More information: Call 803-366-8434 or visit brightstartsc.com.
- S.C. Legal Services: The statewide law firm provides civil legal services for low-income South Carolina residents. The law firm assists with education-related problems such as discipline and expulsion, employment, housing, family-related matters such as custody, issues related to public benefits and more. More information: Call 888-346-5592, e-mail email@example.com or visit sclegal.org.
- TEFRA Funding: The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act provides benefits for children with disabilities whose parents would normally make too much to qualify.
- Local school districts: Each school district has a special services department.