Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Following Special Education Regulations – it’s not an option; it’s the law!

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.


Joel said...

One of the few useful concepts I picked up in my college education classes was the distinction between fairness and equality. Just because we do different things for some students does not mean that we are being unfair. Just because we do the same exact thing for all students does not mean that we are being fair.

Great points!

Anonymous said...

Here's a post from quite a while ago that might make you feel like someone else out there "gets" it.

I wrote that post as a high school principal because I grew tired of the gen ed teachers complaining about the special ed teachers. Specifically, they would complain that the kid couldn't do the same work in the regular classroom, but when the student worked with the special ed teacher, bingo, he or she got it. Now think about it, what kind of idiotic complaint is that? Perhaps they'd prefer it if the special ed teacher didn't help the kid to improve/understand/learn at all?! Kudos to every special needs educator out there who takes the time to know the student well enough that he or she receives actual differentiation and individualization of instruction. If only the gen ed teachers could do more of that.

loonyhiker said...

Kimberly: I am off to read your post. It really makes me feel great that an administrator understands! I think general ed teachers get more "on board" with special ed teachers if there is administrator backing. Thanks for reading!

Lastrac said...

As a general education teacher who works very closely with the special education students and teacher, I find it hard to understand why any teacher would think that it is unfair for special education students to receive extra “stuff” that the general educations students don’t. Pat, you stated, “they receive this extra support because they are special.” You’re right. They are unable to successfully accomplish the goals of the general education curriculum. You also stated, “accommodations are not something to give them edge above other students, but are things that level the playing field for disabled students.” I firmly believe, it’s our job as educators to help each and every one of our students to be successful, and if an IEP and accommodations can do this for learning disabled students, then why not?

There should not be a question of whether or not teachers are going to comply with a student’s IEP. For my learning disabled students, there is not a question of whether of not to follow the stated accommodations of his/her IEP. I find peace of mind knowing that these students will be successful in my classroom with these accommodations in place. Also, knowing that at any time progress or success isn’t being made, I can call a meeting so that necessary changes can be made in order to ensure his/her success is a great thing. As you stated Pat, and I believe—“Following a student’s IEP is not an option, it’s the law.”

Great posting!

loonyhiker said...

Lastrac: I wish there were more general educators out there who believed like you do. I can tell you are an awesome teacher. It is nice to hear a general educator who agrees with me!