Special Education Support and Resources

What is Special Education?

Special Education is specifically designed for individual or group instruction that addresses unique learning needs for children. These educational services at no cost to parents, ensure that your child will overcome learning obstacles through their PreK-12 experience. 

For a more specific definition, check out the US Department of Education Individuals with Disabilities Education Act page (IDEA)


How do I determine if my child needs special education intervention?

Before your child can receive special education and related services for the first time, a full and individual initial evaluation of your child must be conducted to see if your child has a disability and is eligible for special education.

There are at least two ways in which a child may be identified to receive an evaluation under IDEA:

(1) You can request that you want your child evaluated. Parents are often the first to notice that their child’s learning, behavior, or development may be a cause for concern. If you’re  worried about your child’s progress in school and think he or she might need extra help from special education services, you can call, email, or write to your child’s teacher, the school’s principal, or the Director of Special Education in the school district. If the school agrees that an evaluation is needed, they must evaluate your child at no cost!.

(2) The school system may ask to evaluate the child. Based on a teacher’s recommendation, observations, or results from tests given to all children in a particular grade, a school may recommend that a child receive further screening or assessment to determine if he or she has a disability and needs special education and related services. The school system must ask parents for permission to evaluate the child, and parents must give their informed written permission before the evaluation may be conducted.

Informed written consent and timeline

Before the school proceeds with an evaluation, parents must give them an informed written consent. The consent is only for the evaluation and does not include the school going forward with providing any special education services. After consent is given there is a timeline for the initial evaluation to be conducted. This is a federal law that states that it must be completed within 60 calendar days, unless the timeline is extended by parents agreement.

What does an initial evaluation consist of?

The evaluation must use a variety of assessment tools and strategies to collect functional, developmental, and academic information about your child. These assessments should always be administered by specialists. Here are some examples included in the evaluation.

  • Health history
  • vision and hearing
  • social and emotional status
  • general intelligence,
  • academic performance
  • Communication abilities
  • motor abilities

What happens after an evaluation?

You will be invited to participate in a school meeting to consider your child’s eligibility. During this meeting, assessment results should be explained by the specialist who performed the evaluation. Based on disabilities listed under the IDEA special education requirements, your child may be eligible to develop an IEP.

If you don’t agree with them, you have the right to conduct an independent educational evaluation (IEE). Schools should be able to provide you with a list of private providers who can conduct the evaluation for a cost. In most cases, the school is responsible to pay for this evaluation. However, the school can push back with a due process hearing, to explain why they believe their evaluation results are accurate. 

What types of services are available?

  • Restrictive-Supportive-Self Contained Class: A Special Day Class (SDC) which is quite small with no more than 8-10 students based on the age in which the students are in that classroom all day with a credentialed special education teacher and usually there are paraprofessionals also in that class.
  • Resource (RSP): Classes that a student will need some extra help in  subject matter and they will attend that class a certain number of minutes and days per week.
  • Special Day (SDC): Classes that do not require the student to be self-contained all day but a certain number of minutes and days per week.
  • Push In: Classes that the student is in a general education class with added support for a certain number of minutes and days per week.
  • Push Out: Classes where the student is pulled out for the added support for a certain number of minutes and days per week.
  • Small group: Service given in a small group for the students to have interaction with each other.
  • Designated instructional services (DIS) are usually pull-out individual and small group services.
  • Supplementary services on an IEP are to help the student with:
    • Use of large print
    • Use of calculator
    • More time for testing
    • Read instructions out loud
    • Consult time with teacher
    • Needs to sit in the front of the room

What are 504 plans?

This is a more formal plan that schools administer to children.

Unlike IEP’s, these plans are not part of special education. The goal is the same, to remove any barrier preventing your child from learning.

Accommodations can include but are not limited to:

  • Changes to the environment (like taking tests in a quiet space)
  • Changes to instruction (like checking in frequently on key concepts)
  • Changes to how curriculum is presented (like getting outlines of lessons)

These accommodations don’t necessarily change what your child will learn, but how they will learn it.

What is an IEP?

Students who receive special education programs and services have an educational plan called an individualized education program (IEP). IEP’s are included in the PreK-12 public education system. This will be the blueprint for how your child will receive instruction, support, and additional services.

IEP’s are covered by the special education law, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law is in place to ensure all students in traditional public and public charter with disabilities receive support.

What is it supposed to ensure?

Your child is provided access to general education programs

They should receive accommodations, adaptations, specialized services, and supports to support your child’s learning progress.

Overall, this should give students and families legal protections to track outcomes and most importantly allow families to be apart of the decision making process impact their child!

What should I bring to my upcoming IEP hearing and what are questions I should ask?

Everyone a part of this process should be clear on the goals for the meeting. Remember you are here because this process calls for collaboration between the family and school. Healthy collaboration should consist of collaborative communication, respect, and ensuring your child receives a quality education.

Below are items that are helpful to bring

  • Notepad and pen to take notes
  • If you’re able to record, have an audio recorder or recording app on your phone
  • Official documents like your child’s current IEP, recent progress reports, and report cards which many would call an IEP Binder.
  • Samples of your child’s homework and tests
  • Any relevant communications from your child’s teacher/school (We recommend you develop a communication log)
  • Any private evaluation reports
  • Bring a friend or local special education advocate to be an extra support system
    • Be sure to let the IEP team know you have an additional guest coming for support and provide their name and relationship to your family.

Here are some questions to keep in mind!

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, paraphrasing and/or to restate a question during your meeting. Below are some questions you should keep in mind when attending. 

Be sure to check out our resources page that will give you access to both state and local special education agencies that can support you as well.

  • What assessments were used to determine plan
  • What staff has worked together to determine my child’s special education service
  • Who will be administering progress monitoring
  • How often will my child be progress monitored
  • What accommodations have been tried and unsuccessful
  • How will this program address my child’s needs
  • What skills is my child lacking and How can I develop these skills at home
  • What curriculum modifications does my child need and how will that be determined
  • Who will my child work with for services and what is the goal (when and how often)
  • How will a positive relationship be established with my child when assigned to a related service provider
  • How will i get the most to date reports on my child’s IEP (Daily, weekly, or monthly)
  • What are specific amounts my child will spend in general education vs special education?
  • Remember to
    • Ask questions that focus on the problem and that will identify the solutions
    • Ask questions to better understand staff recommendations

What are my special education rights?

Parents should have the expectation that they will be:

  • Notified about all meetings at least five school days before
  • Ability to request a new meeting date, time, and location if needed
  • Able to participate in the decision making process
  • Have any terms and information thoroughly explained
  • Have the security that all information is confidential
  • Able to access and review all school records, reports, and evaluations about their child
  • Understand that you have the right to request mediation, due process complaint, and an impartial hearing, if needed

Remember you are the BEST advocate when it comes to your child!

Here are helpful terms for parents to learn about!

Academic Intervention Services: Student support services which supplement instruction provided in the general curriculum and are designed to assist students in meeting State learning standards. AIS are available to students with special needs and shall be provided consistent with the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

ADD/ADHD: Attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are medical conditions characterized by a child’s inability to focus, while possessing impulsivity, fidgeting and inattention.

Accommodations: Changes that allow a person with a disability to participate fully in an activity. Examples include extended time, different test format and alterations to a classroom.

Adapted Physical Education (APE): Specially designed physical education program, using accommodations designed to fit the needs of students who require developmental or corrective instruction.

Annual Review: An evaluation, conducted at least one time per year, for each child with a disability for the purposes of recommending the continuation, modification or termination of the special education program.

Assessment: Evaluation procedures used to identify a child’s needs and the family’s concerns and priorities about their child’s development.

Assistive Technology Devices and Services: Equipment and services that are approved to be used to improve or maintain the abilities of a child to function including such activities as playing, communicating or eating.

Autism: A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age three  that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engaging in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines and unusual responses to sensory experiences.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): Special education term used to describe the written plan used to address problem behavior that includes positive behavioral interventions, strategies and support. This may include program modifications and supplementary aids and services.

Cognitive: A term that describes the process used for remembering, reasoning, understanding and making decisions.

Community Advisory Committee (CAC): A committee whose membership includes parents of school children, school personnel and representatives of the public. This committee advises school administration and local school boards regarding the plan for special education, assists with parent education and promotes public awareness of individuals with special needs.

Complaint Procedure: A formal complaint filed with the County or State Board of Education if a district violates a legal duty or fails to follow a requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Consent: The written approval a parent gives to the Committee on Special Education to have their child evaluated and receive services. Consent is always voluntary and a parent may revoke it at any time.

Cumulative File: The records maintained by the local school district for any child enrolled in school. The file may contain evaluations and information about a child’s disability and placement. It also contains grades and the results of standardized assessments. Parents have the right to inspect these files at any time.

Deaf-Blindness: Concomitant (simultaneous) hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

Deafness: A hearing impairment so severe that a child is impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing, with or without amplification, and adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Designated Instructional Services (DIS): Also called Related Services. Instruction and services not normally provided by regular classes, resource specialist programs or special day classes. There are 16 DIS services available for students:

  • Speech and Language
  • Occupational and Physical Therapy (OT)
  • Adapted Physical Education (APE)
  • Hearing Services (HH)
  • Interpreting Services
  • Vision Services (VI)
  • Orientation and Mobility (OM)
  • Behavior Intervention Services (ABA)
  • Counseling and Guidance
  • Parent Counseling and Training
  • Psychological Services
  • Social Worker Services
  • Specially Designed Vocational Education
  • Recreation Services
  • Heath and Nursing Services
  • Mental Health Services
  • Counseling/Therapy—Individual, Group & Family
  • Parent Counseling and Training
  • Psychological Services

Developmental Delay: For children from birth to age 3 (under IDEA Part C) and children from ages three through nine (under IDEA Part B), the term developmental delay, as defined by each State, means a delay in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication, social or emotional development or adaptive [behavioral] development.

Developmental History: Steps or stages of a child’s growth in such skills as sitting, walking and talking. This information is gathered as part of the social history requirements.

Dominant Language: The language or other mode of communication that the family normally uses. Evaluations of your child are required to be administered in the child’s dominant language.

Due Process: Procedures designed to protect a person’s rights. This includes requirements for confidentiality, consent and complaint mechanisms.

Educationally Related Support Services (ERSS): Services intended for students who are not eligible for special education services yet eligible to receive speech and counseling services.

Emotional Disturbance: A condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects a child’s educational performance:

  • An inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory or health factors.
  • An inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.
  • Inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances.
  • A general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression.
  • A tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

Hearing Impairment: An impairment in hearing, whether permanent or fluctuating, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance but is not included under the definition of “deafness.”

Impartial Hearing: A formal process at which a family’s complaints can be heard by an impartial hearing officer who will resolve the dispute or complaint regarding the child’s evaluation, IEP or certain other issues.

Intellectual Disability: Significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently (at the same time) with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. Until October 2010, the law used the term “mental retardation.” In October 2010, Rosa’s Law was signed into law by President Obama, which changed the name of the term to “intellectual disability.”

Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written plan developed by the CSE which specifies the appropriate level of special education programs and services to be provided to meet the unique educational needs of a student with a disability.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Placement of students with disabilities in special classes, separate schools or other removal from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that even with the use of supplementary aids and services, education cannot be satisfactorily achieved.

Mediation: A method for solving a problem that uses persons trained in helping people resolve their own problems. In mediation, the school district and parent will try to reach an agreement with which both parties are satisfied.

Multiple Disabilities: Concomitant (simultaneous) impairments (such as intellectual disability-blindness, intellectual disability-orthopedic impairment, etc.), the combination of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in a special education program solely for one of the impairments. The term does not include deaf-blindness.

Orthopedic Impairment: A severe orthopedic impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes impairments caused by a congenital anomaly, impairments caused by disease (e.g., poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and impairments from other causes (e.g. cerebral palsy, amputations and fractures or burns that cause contractures).

Occupational Therapy (OT): Services delivered by an Occupational Therapist that relate to self-help skills, adaptive behavior and play and sensory and motor and postural development.

Other Health Impairment: Having limited strength, vitality or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli, that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment, that:

  • Is due to chronic or acute health problems such as asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, sickle cell anemia and Tourette syndrome.
  • Adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Parent Support Group: Discussion and information-sharing meetings for parents of children with disabilities.

Pendency: A due process right that the parent and child have that allows the child and family to continue to receive services as described on the current IEP while the parent works to resolve a dispute.

Physical Therapy (PT): Services provided by a Physical Therapist that relate to large movement difficulties and related functional problems.

Reevaluation Review: A reassessment of the child’s ability and achievement within a three-year period.

Response to Intervention (RtI): Integrates assessment and intervention within a multi-level prevention system to maximize student achievement and to reduce behavioral problems. Schools use data to identify students at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitor student progress, provide evidence-based interventions and adjust the intensity and nature of those interventions depending on a student’s responsiveness, and identify students with learning disabilities or other disabilities. This is similar to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS).

Section 504 Accommodation Plan: An educational plan or modifications for a student suspected of a disability that may not require special education services.

Special Education: Specially designed instruction that includes special services or programs.

Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT): A preschool special education teacher who provides direct and indirect service in regular programs or a child’s home for students ages three and four.

Specific Learning Disability: A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations. The term includes such conditions as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia and developmental aphasia. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of intellectual disability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.

Speech or Language Impairment: A communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, language impairment or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child’s educational performance.

Speech Therapy (SP or ST): Services provided by a Speech and Language Pathologist that relate to delays in speech development and communication.

State Education Department (SED): Refers to the state agency that establishes education regulations and provides support to counties and school districts.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Means an acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term applies to open or closed head injuries resulting in impairments in one or more areas, such as cognition, language, memory, attention, reasoning, abstract thinking, judgment, problem-solving, sensory, perceptual and motor abilities, psychosocial behavior, physical functions, information processing and speech. The term does not apply to brain injuries that are congenital or degenerative, or to brain injuries induced by birth trauma.

Visual Impairment Including Blindness: An impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.

New York State Education Department Office of Special Education Resources

NYS Education Department Office of Special Education page for general information

NYS Education Department Office of Special Education Assistance for Parents page for information dispute resolution

NYS Education Department Office of Special Education Pathways for Graduation that supports students with disabilities

NYS Education Department Office of Special Education: Educational Partnership
Workshop that outlines the services in CPSE and CSE

NYS Education Department Office of Special Education: Educational Partnership
Workshop that outlines what is a Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the process for School age students with disabilities

A Parents Guide to Special Education ins New York State (English & Spanish)

NYS Education Department guide to Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalulia

Local Resources for Special Education Services 

Rochester City School District
Special Education Handbook

Partners with families and schools to support them with local special education resources and advocates

BOCES of Monroe County


Arc of Monroe

Advocacy Resources for Special Education Services

Empire Justice Center

Advocates for Children of New York

Disability Rights NY
Provides free legal and advocacy services

Benefits for children with disabilities

Provided by the National Parents Union.