This reference guide presents in clear, readable form, information to lead parents and staff through federal and state special education laws, regulations and services, along with helpful “tips for parents.” It is not intended to offer substantive legal advice, which may be provided only by an attorney.

Special education includes a broad spectrum of services. Special services for children range from consultations by special education personnel to full-time out-of-district placements in special education schools. Providers of special services include special education instructors, speech-language pathologists, social workers, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, adaptive physical education instructors, educational consultants and others.

Parents, however, are the only ones who, over time, continue to be a constant source of information and support for their children. This guide outlines how parents can begin and sustain a collaborative partnership with staff within the school system, whereby everyone works together for the benefit of the children.

The fundamental purpose of our public school system is to set the highest standards of educational excellence and, within this context, to empower each student to achieve his or her personal best, demonstrate good character and values, function responsibly within our system of self-government, develop intellectual curiosity, exhibit proficient skills and, thereby, build a foundation for life-long learning.

The school district’s mission for children with disabilities is to increase the academic and functional growth and achievement of all children, as indicated in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), while educating them in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate: children are placed in general education classes in their neighborhood schools and in extracurricular activities with their non-disabled peers, with appropriate supplementary aids and services. Inclusive settings may not be appropriate for all children at all times, however, and the full range of placement options must be kept in mind and discussed.

As with all children, competence in the basic subject areas is essential for success. State syllabi and district curricula are utilized in all areas. If necessary and appropriate, courses may be modified and specifically designed for children receiving special services, with the subject matter closely following that of the general education curricula.

This guide is intended to make the special services process more understandable and less intimidating. The pre-referral, referral, and evaluation processes, questions of eligibility, the planning and placement team (PPT) meeting, and the development of an IEP are presented as the basic steps toward making sure that students with special needs achieve the “highest standards of educational excellence.”

Throughout these pages, we have embedded links to information that will help the reader gain more in-depth knowledge about the topics at hand. Click on the green or orange text or web sites to access additional information or the forms being discussed. Our web resources have been compiled from a number of reliable sources. Our primary information base,, is updated frequently. Please select it as one of your favorites and familiarize yourself with it, so you can more easily access special education and disability-related topics, research, upcoming events and advocacy groups.

Tips for Parents

🗸 You, as parents, know your child best. You are the ones who can speak most effectively on your child’s behalf in order to secure his or her educational rights under the law. Your knowledge of the school system’s procedures and state and federal laws and related regulations is essential to becoming effective advocates.


How to Be an Effective Advocate for Your Child