As head of the special education department head, many general education teachers would use me as a resource. Many times I was asked about strategies, but a lot of times teachers would vent to me about how they thought it unfair that special education students received extra stuff that the others didn’t. That is why they are “special”! Accommodations are not something to give them an edge above other students, but are things that level the playing field for these disabled students. For over twenty years I have felt this resentment and resistance by general education teachers and I truly understand their feelings but they need to understand that the law requires them to give these students the accommodations written in their IEPs. I don’t always agree with the law but I am required to follow it. I don’t always agree with traffic laws but if I don’t follow them I could get a ticket. If there is a problem with the accommodations, I always suggest to the general education teacher that they meet with the special education teacher to set up an IEP meeting. That is to decide whether the accommodations are appropriate or not. If the team decides that certain accommodations are appropriate, even if one teacher doesn’t agree, the IEP must be followed.
I have also been approached by general education teachers that many feel the special education teachers are helping the students cheat. I have heard this also for over twenty years and I know this is not true (most of the time!). For example, if I had to help a student with Algebra, it was difficult because I did not have absolute knowledge about every subject that my students might take. Usually I would sit down with the student and the textbook in order to work out the problems together. Many times I would have the student teach it to me as their teacher taught it to them. During this time, I would be able to clarify steps or explain steps that are not understood. If during this time, the general education teacher came in, it would look like I was doing the work for the student and the teacher would leave my room very upset and report this to an administrator. Simple communication between the two of us could have avoided this situation which leads me to my next point. There needs to be a basic level of trust between the two teachers and a common goal which should be to help the student be successful. Unless this happens, the students will play the two teachers until the goal becomes more of a power struggle and no one wins.
Whenever a teacher has a special education student enter in their classroom, the first thing they should ask for is a copy of the IEP and look over the accommodations. If there is any difficulty following this, a meeting should be set up to amend the IEP and the teacher should be able to show why the accommodations cannot be followed as written. If there isn’t any problem following them, the teacher should keep documentation of when or how they are being done so at meetings, they can be reviewed. It might be determined at a later date that these accommodations are no longer appropriate if they are not working or if they are not needed. This documentation will also help in seeing what other accommodations would be helpful.
I have had teachers come to me and tell me that they absolutely refuse to follow the accommodations in the IEP, which always amazes me. Following the IEP is not an option; it is the law! Teachers do not have to like it but they do have to follow it. Teachers do not want to be part of a state department complaint or involved in a due process hearing unless they can prove (document) that they have been following the law completely. As a professional, this was part of my job and expected of me when I was hired.
If you are interested in learning more about Special Education Law, here are some links that might help you.
Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004
Wright’s Law gives information about the statute and regulations, commentary to the regulations, What You Need to Know about IDEA 2004 articles, and other publications.
The FAPE Page - This is Sanford Hausler's blog on special education law.
Special Education Law Blog - A special education legal resource discussing case law, news, practical advocacy advice, and developments in state and federal laws, statutes and regulations. Postings include insight and sometimes humor from Charles P. Fox, a Chicago, Illinois attorney who is also a parent of child with special needs, and other guest authors.