Kingsport City Schools Director of Special Education Linda Story addressed some of the basic implications and challenges of special education law during the monthly KCS brown bag lunch, which was held Wednesday at John Sevier Middle School.
"We all know that we have it (special education law)," Story said. "We all know that we have special education programs in all the schools, and we know that there are is a federal requirement. But often people don't know the rationale for it."
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) - a piece of legislation that saw its first incarnation in 1975 and has subsequently had several amendments added - every child age birth to 21 is guaranteed a free and appropriate public education. Because of this act, Story said individuals with disabilities "form a protected class" with protected rights and services including the right to special education and related services.
Story said special education is defined as "specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, intended to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability."
This education does not necessarily have to be given in a traditional school environment.
Specially designed instruction involves adapting the content, methodology or delivery of instruction; addressing the unique needs of the child; ensuring access to the general curriculum; and including related services, which can cover a wide variety of accommodations such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, full-time nursing, special equipment, etc.
Some of the challenges for school systems in dealing with these laws, Story said, include ambiguity in the language used, as well as the broad spectrum of disabilities covered.
In Kingsport, Story said students qualifying for special education - those who meet the definition and whose needs prevent them from having access to the general curriculum without special accommodations - include 27 diagnosed with autism, five with deafness, 81 with a developmental delay, 36 with a functional delay, two with an orthopedic impairment, 26 with multiple disabilities, 28 with an emotional disturbance, 186 other health impaired, 57 with a language impairment, seven with a hearing impairment, one with a traumatic brain injury, 260 with speech impairments, 38 with mental retardation, one with visual impairment, 364 with specific learning disabilities, and 13 intellectually gifted (those who meet the criteria of gifted and also need special services).
In addition under the No Child Left Behind Act, students with disabilities must pass standardized tests, even if they do not have the cognitive capability to pass. The cutoff cognitive score for taking the tests is 65. Also under NCLB, students who receive a special education diploma are considered to have "dropped out" when it comes to graduation rates.
The bottom line, Story said, is that not all education looks the same, but some regulations are in conflict with that concept.
"First of all we have said under IDEIA, â€˜We want to educate everyone, but everybody's education may not look the same because we all have different capabilities and we all need to learn different things to function in this world,'" Story said. "Then under NCLB we've said â€˜But everybody has to learn the same thing and in the same time.'"