Parents, Schools Working Together to Improve Special Education


Schools have made strides in catering to the needs of special education students, and one has been realizing that parents are an important piece of the puzzle , reports Gil Smart on Lancaster Online.

All students are entitled by law to an "appropriate" education at public expense in the least restrictive environment. Many parents are satisfied by the efforts made by their local school districts, but some advocate constantly for improved conditions that best meet the needs of their children.

At one time, kids with special needs tended to be "warehoused" in separate classrooms or schools. That began to change with the advent of federal legislation, and a landmark Pennsylvania Supreme Court lawsuit that mandated school districts to include more special needs kids in "regular" education classrooms.

Parents have also progressed over the years. Parents used to have a harder time accepting the label of "special education student" for their child, but now they are increasingly comfortable with the classification if it ensures that they can get the needs of their child fulfilled.

In many states including Pennsylvania, every special education student gets a IEP or individualized education program — a written agreement between the parents and the school specifying the program and services a child will need. It also includes a description of goals to be met, special help the child may need in the classroom and information on how the child's progress will be monitored.

It is a team effort to give these students the education they require, and parents are an integral — and arguably, the most important –part of that team. Usually there is agreement on the goals and accommodations for the students, but not always.

"I think parents often feel like their opinions are not valued as much as they should be," said Carol Eshleman, who co-chairs the IU 13 Right to Education Task Force, for parents of students with special needs in Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Some parents are afraid their child won't get the necessary attention or resources needed so they opt for a specialized school. The school district usually covers the cost of tuition and transportation. Further complicating things, some think that the school districts are bearing the burden of service costs that should be covered by health insurance providers.

Advocates and parents believe that early intervention, inclusion in a regular classroom, and staff willing to work with parents can aid in lowering costs for school districts in the long run and provide better for special education students — and make for happier, more satisfied families.

"There are many things that can be put into place really without much cost," Eshleman said. "Something like preferred seating in a classroom, having the student sit up close, or using a tape recorder to tape the lesson so a student can review it later, to using a computer if (the student) is having trouble with writing."


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