Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Special Education: What To Consider When Deciding Whether To Take The Plunge

By Michelle Ball, California Education Attorney for Students since 1995

When parents are faced with issues at school involving their child's education, such as a lack of school progress or repeated behavioral problems in the classroom, the school may suggest a special education evaluation.  Is this something that should be pursued?  What are the good and bad things to consider in deciding if you should allow your child to be evaluated for special education?

With anything in life, there are costs (and benefits).  There are costs for taking a day off, costs for driving one way versus another, and costs for all decisions we make, big or small.  Our decisions add up over time, and choosing to pursue special education for a child is a big decision with many ramifications that may affect that child long into adulthood.  

It would be difficult to list all costs and benefits of special education in a single document, but here are just some to consider when deciding whether to open the door:

Costs of Special Education?

-  Students must be labelled with a qualifying handicapping condition to receive services.  Some people just don't want their kid to be labelled with an attention or learning disorder, behavioral condition, or otherwise.
-  Students must submit to various assessments to qualify, including from a school psychologist.
-  Students may be placed in separate classrooms for all or part of their day.
-  Special education does not necessarily bring a child up to and/or keep a child at grade level, so eventual return to a regular class may be very difficult depending on the placement (e.g. outside or inside the general education classroom).
- Skills other than academics may be the focus in certain special education classrooms.
-  Receipt of a high school diploma may not be possible depending on the level at which the student advances and whether they can meet graduation requirements.
-  Labelling kids with "disabilities" may lead to psychotropic drugs being prescribed to them by professionals (e.g. attention medication, anxiety medication, etc.) and/or suggested by school staff.  The choice to medicate for school issues is a BIG decision with long-lasting impacts/side effects.
-  Special education labels may not go away.  A "Learning Disability" label, for example, may stick to that child for life.
-  Students may be placed away from their local/home school, at the site where the special education services are located.
-  Stigma of being in "special education."
-  Risk of putting kids in special education who don't actually need it, but for whom the traditional public school just may be a bad fit and/or who just had cruddy teaching leading to a large deficit.  This is a real possibility and parents may consider other roads than special education, such as home school, intensive tutoring, or otherwise.  I have seen students targeted for special education intensively educated and brought to grade level outside of special education, albeit at the parents' cost.
-  Less lecture-type instruction, such as in a typical group classroom.
-  Students with many different issues and/or functioning levels may be lumped into one classroom and may actually receive less instruction due to the structure of the class.
-  Special education may not be all it is cracked up to be in the end; like public education as a whole, there are issues.
-  A "team" takes over as far as placement, services and what your child will do.  Parents still have a say, but it often becomes a war against the team if the parent disagrees.
-  Getting out of special education can be difficult and may even get a parent forced into a hearing.

Benefits of Special Education?

-  Students may receive a more individualized educational experience and education can be adjusted to the student's level of ability (but watch out for dummying-down of work).
-  Some students may not be able to learn in any other environment and can advance better in a structured and/or special education setting.
-  Special education opens the door to the school district funding many supports, such as one-on-one aides, one-on-one instruction, related services (speech, occupational therapy, behavior support, adaptive physical education, etc.), and even a non-public school placement, depending on the situation.
-  Services may be provided through the age of 21 (there are some qualifications to this, e.g. graduation ends special education rights).
-  Many accommodations may be made in the classroom to help students succeed.
-  College accommodations should be easier to obtain if there is a special education past.
-  Testing accommodations may be made with a special education student, giving them e.g. longer time on standardized tests.
-  Transportation may be provided to any school where a student may be placed.
-  Extra services/specialized classrooms, etc. are free for the parent.
-  Smaller class size opportunities.

There are many more costs and benefits, and each family has to decide for themselves.  Sometimes the decision is obvious and unavoidable (e.g. severely handicapped student).  Other times, parents may be on the fence.  If they pursue special education, what type of special education do they fight for?  Will this harm their child more than help them?  If they pursue special education, will they push for a mainstream environment with supports or a structured classroom?  It is a tough burden to carry.  

To special educate or not special educate is not a small decision and parents should not take the evaluation and labelling of their children lightly.  It may be a lifelong decision which has positive or potentially terrible impacts to the child involved.

Best,
Education Law Attorney
LAW OFFICE OF MICHELLE BALL
717 K Street, Suite 228
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: 916-444-9064
Fax: 916-444-1209
Email: help@edlaw4students.com

Michelle Ball
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Please see my disclaimer on the bottom of my blog page. This is legal information, not legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is formed by this posting, etc. etc.!  This blog may not be reproduced without permission from the author and proper attribution of authorship.



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