Special Education in Texas Schools

Special education is a topic of interest to many parents, teachers, administrators, and legislators. Since there has been a sharp increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, there will likely be more demand for special education teachers and services in the futures.

It is important to note that special education has changed significantly over the last few decades. In the past, special education students were "pulled out" or isolated. There was a stigma associated with it, and they were sometimes excluded from enrichment subjects or activities. The current trend is toward inclusion, where students are in "mainstream" education classes for the most part, but receive some type of instruction or support from the special education department. Under the United States Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students must be instructed in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE) and receive "free appropriate public education." This means special education students are often in mainstream classes and participate in enrichment and extracurricular activities. For part of the day, usually no more than one or two hours, some special education students may go to a resource room for more individual instruction and/or supplemental aids.

In order for a student to be placed in special education in Texas, there first must be an evaluation. A teacher, counselor, social worker, therapist, or parent may make the request for evaluation. The parents are given a "notice of proposed evaluation" with an explanation about why the district will evaluate the student. Parental consent is required before the first evaluation, which must be performed within 60 days from the time the district receives the signed consent. Written notice must be given to parents concerning the initial request for evaluation, as well as any information about the identification of a special need, the evaluation, and the placement of the child. If the parents refuse services, they are required to submit written notice that they are removing their child from or preventing entry into special education.

After the student is evaluated, there is an "ARD/IEP" planning conference between the family and school. ARD and IEP are important terms for teachers to know. ARD is the acronym standing for "Admission, Review, and Dismissal" in special education. Although ARD's are not technically required by law, school districts in Texas use to them to ensure high quality education for special education students. ARD's are meetings between the family and school members to make a plan to best meet the needs of the student involved. The plan they make is called the student's "Individualized Educational Program" (IEP), and it will list modifications or accommodations the student requires. Some examples of modifications or accommodations would be more time to do assignments, fewer questions on exams, or assistance from a peer in note taking. All educators working with the student are bound by law to follow the IEP.

After the ARD, there is ongoing monitoring of the student's progress. It is important for the student, teachers, and parents to work together to meet the individual needs of the student. Parents and teachers should be aware of their rights and responsibilities to educate all learners.