Special education is a term that refers to a range of services for students with special needs. These services are provided to students who need extra help because of a learning disability, physical or mental impairment, or behavioral challenges. Special education teachers are licensed professionals who have been trained to address the specific needs of students who require specialized instruction.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that provides students with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education. While each state has its own guidelines on what constitutes special education, Massachusetts has some of the most stringent regulations in the country.
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) identifies special education as “specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, at no cost to the parents. This is available to children from birth through age 21.” The program is authorized under federal law, primarily the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but also Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Under Massachusetts law and DESE regulations, children who are between three and 21 years old and who have an illness or disability that affects their ability to learn may be eligible for special education services. These services include specially designed instruction, speech-language therapy, counseling services, physical therapy, occupational therapy and assistive technology devices/services. According to DESE’s website, “instruction must be designed to meet each child’s individual needs. It may include instruction conducted in the classroom, in the home or hospital, in other settings and in physical education.”
Special education services are generally provided by public school districts. In Massachusetts, all public schools must provide transportation for special education students.
Special education can mean many things in Massachusetts. From the state’s perspective, it’s a means of providing students with disabilities with an equal opportunity to participate in an education. This means schools must deliver services that meet a student’s individual needs, and hold them to the same standards and expectations as every other student.
From the perspective of parents, special education may be a way to get additional support on top of what their child is already receiving at school. Special education may also be a means to help their child receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan.
It is the policy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to guarantee that every child has a right to access quality education. This is no different for students with disabilities. Special education programs in Massachusetts guarantee that children with disabilities have equal access to education and can be successful in school.” Special education services can start as early as age 3, and continue to age 22. These services are typically provided in the student’s regular school, or the closest public school they would attend if they did not have special needs. They may also be provided in a different location, such as a private school or hospital. Services are provided at no cost to parents.