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Just The Way You Are - Special Education - IDEA

               Our kids have to go to school, and as parents we want them to do well, learn all that they can, and have some fun while they’re at it. When dealing with kids who have a disability, a normal classroom setting may not be appropriate, however. This doesn’t mean, though, that they do not deserve an equal education. Tennessee follows the federal guidelines of a law known as IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provides funding to states who follow its guidelines in educating children who have a disability. Its purpose is to ensure that everyone gets a “free appropriate public education.”
                The idea of IDEA (pun intended) is that each special child has a written plan in place that is specific to their needs and detailed to ensure that they get the best possible education. A student with a mental impairment will need something very from a student with an auditory impairment, so this law lays out a path for schools, teachers, and parents to follow to ensure that each student gets what they need.

                To qualify under IDEA, a person must be between the ages of 3 and 21. (Remember, T.E.I.S. will help with your child’s education until the age of 3.) They must also fall within one of these categories: autism, deaf/blind, deafness, hearing impaired, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment including blindness, and other health impairment. Basically, they must have a disability that “. . .adversely affects their educational performance and need special education in order to receive an appropriate education.”

                If someone isn’t sure whether or not their child has a disability or falls within one of these categories, IDEA allows children to receive a free evaluation. Students who are covered under IDEA are entitled to a meeting to create an individualized Education Program or IEP. There are several members of a team who come together to create an IEP including the child’s parents, a representative of the school, the child’s teacher(s), and some sort of educational evaluator who can explain results of the evaluation. These are all required members, however, they are not exclusive. Parents can request that the child’s therapists, counselors, or psychologist be present, or an educational advocate, social worker, or lawyer.

                With all these people working in concert, the IEP is created. It creates measureable goals on how to help students get to where they need to be. It takes into account their strengths and weaknesses, their needs, and where they are performance-wise. In creating the IEP, the team determines what the “least restrictive environment” for that child is. The term “least restrictive environment” is used a lot in disability law related topics, but it is a simple concept. In the area of schools, it describes the most appropriate environment in which a student with a disability can participate. The ideal least restrictive environment is in a general education class room with non-disabled peers for the entire school day. However, this would not be appropriate for all students who are disabled. The range of least restrictive environment varies for every individual and can be as restrictive as away from the school, in-home services, but many times we see it in the form of a separate classroom consisting of only special education students. This concept is not an “all or nothing” approach, though. Students are not restricted to either general education or special education classrooms. Whatever mix might be appropriate is what will be implemented.

                This is a very brief overview of the topic, but I hope it has encouraged you to learn more. There is a wealth of information out there to be found. You can go to any of the local schools here in Cannon County and ask for information on IDEA or Special Education services. I did so at Woodbury Grammar a few months ago and they graciously printed me out a large booklet on the topic! There are also several websites that you can visit,,, and to name a few. Just Googling the topic will give you more information than you can sort through in one day.

                I am also thrilled to tell you about an exciting way to learn even more about Special Education. Tennessee Voices for Children, a state wide advocacy program for children, is offering an informational class on the topic in Woodbury next month! The class is on January 8th at 8:00am in the Lions Club Building on Park Circle (next to the baseball fieldsand should last for about one and a half hours. For more information on this class, please email me at and I will be glad to help! I hope to see you all there!



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