Special Education

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Even those not strictly in a special education role should understand the basics of serving students with disabilities.

The Basics of Special Education

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates a “free appropriate public education” for students with disabilities — as defined by the statute — and ensures special education and related services to those children. IDEA, along with Texas state regulations, outline the process of how a student in need of special education services is identified and tested, as well as how their curriculum and classroom placement should be modified.  

Students with disabilities should learn alongside other students in the classroom as much as possible to promote inclusion. Aids or extra services must be provided by the district to make this inclusion a reality. This might include a variety of accommodations, including technical support, teacher training, or extra assistance. If a student ends up with a placement outside of the traditional classroom, there must be proof by the district of the setting not benefiting the student.  

Section 504

Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including in public education. While IDEA provides funding for the education of students with disabilities defined by that law, Section 504 is an anti-discrimination regulation that is not tied to funding.

If a student does not qualify for IDEA funding but has a condition that meets the definition of disability, they may qualify for accommodations under Section 504. There is no federally mandated procedure for identifying and evaluating students for Section 504 accommodations, and policies are set by local school districts.

Assessing Students for Special Education Services

Assessing whether a student needs special education services follows a defined procedure. After a referral from a teacher or another figure with knowledge of the student, an assessment should be provided (with the permission of a parent or legal guardian) within 60 days.  

The student’s school is financially responsible for the assessment.  

Special Education Placement

Once a student has been assessed, an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) committee determines eligibility and placement in special education services.  

An ARD committee includes the student’s parents or legal guardian, a special education representative, a general education classroom teacher, and a school administrator. Depending on the child’s disability, other people may be required (or optional) to be in attendance as outlined by the Legal Framework.  

That committee constructs an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which outlines educational goals for the student and the plan to achieve those goals, including checkpoints, modified curriculum, and other possible services specific to the student. Teachers must follow the guidelines and requirements for the IEP of their student, and every teacher who interacts with that student must be aware of the relevant components.  

The Texas Education Agency has a model IEP form on its website. 

The ARD committee is also responsible for determining, at any point, whether services should be discontinued for the student. ARD committee meetings can be requested at any time. 

Student Discipline

A student who receives special education services is subject to the same state standards regarding removal from class for excessive disruptive behavior, but long-term alternative placement (more than 10 days) of such a student can be made only by an ARD committee. For more information, see our guide to the Safe Schools Act.  

For student safety, the Texas Education Code specifies that special education classrooms may be required to record (with audio and visual elements) classroom activities upon a request by a parent or legal guardian, a member of the school board, or a staff member. 

Legal Information

Questions?

If you have questions or concerns, please contact your local union. If you’re a member of the Associate Membership Program, please contact the AMP service department.    

Have a question about your rights? Contact a union expert about policies by downloading the Ask Texas AFT app for free.