Frequently-Asked Questions: Special Education
What is special education?
Special Education is a set of individualized supports provided by the school district to students with disabilities, Within each school, a multi-disciplinary team of professionals and a broad continuum of instructional and related services options support student growth. These teams work closely with families to build the strong home/school partnerships needed to help students access our curriculum and succeed to their fullest potential.
One of our priorities is to do what’s right for students and ensure they have access to what they need. This often means working collaboratively and creatively. The Pupil Personnel Services office has also focused on including student voice in creating appropriate IEPs. Finally, a key component of our special education planning–which can begin at age 12–is providing opportunities for our special education students to engage in the programs, life skills and social skills training, and transition work they need to prepare them for post-secondary success.
How is eligibility determined?
In accordance with state law, each Board of Education must appoint a Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) and Committee on Special Education (CSE) to assist it in meeting its responsibilities to students with disabilities. Committee members may include the parents of the student, a regular education teacher, a special education teacher or related service provider, a school psychologist, an additional parent member and a representative of the school district.
A parent/guardian, teacher or administrator may refer a child to the CPSE (children ages 2-4) or CSE (school-aged children) for an evaluation. Referrals must be made in writing to the school counselor, school principal or the Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Personnel Services.
Once a referral is received, the Office of Pupil Personnel Services (PPS Office) sends consent for an initial evaluation form to the parents/guardians. When the PPS Office receives the signed consent for initial evaluation, the District has 60 days to conduct the necessary evaluations and hold an initial eligibility determination meeting through the Committee on Special Education.
When consent is received, the evaluation process begins and includes: the completion of a social history by the parent/guardian, physical examination by the child’s pediatrician, classroom observation, psychological evaluation and educational evaluation. In some cases, additional testing including a speech/language, occupational therapy and/or physical therapy evaluation is also conducted. Bilingual evaluations are conducted for students who require testing to be completed in their native language. Once all evaluations are completed and shared with the parents, an initial eligibility determination meeting is scheduled.
At the initial eligibility meeting, all of the collected data and information about the student’s skills, abilities, and classroom functioning are discussed by the CSE/CSPE Committee to determine if the student meets one of the 13 classifications and requires the support of Special Education to access the New York State mandated curriculum. If the student is determined eligible to receive Special Education services, the CSE/CPSE will develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). If a school-aged student is found ineligible, they will be referred to the building-level RTI Team for consideration for supports.
What is the role of the Child Study Team?
Any student can be referred to their building’s Child Study Team, which is chaired by its school psychologists. Child Study Teams are a forum for administrators, case managers, nurses, Pupil Personnel Services and Response to Intervention staff to meet to discuss and plan interventions, and collaborate on supporting students who are struggling with social-emotional, behavioral, academic and/or home issues.
When a school-aged student is referred to the Committee on Special Education, regardless of who made the referral, the Child Study Team is the anchor in the process. Members of the team are assigned to complete all required evaluations, share results with parents and team members to seek critical feedback on the results and identify any additional testing being recommended. Members of the Child Study Team actively participate in the CSE.
How is the Individualized Education Plan developed and implemented?
When the Committee on Special Education (CSE) or Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) determines that a student presents with a disability, the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed. The IEP is a detailed document in which the child’s learning, cognitive, social/emotional, motor, speech/language and vision/hearing needs are defined. In addition, the IEP also outlines the supports the child requires–always to be provided in the least restrictive environment possible–to access the general education curriculum. For school-aged children, student goals are a driving force in creating an appropriate IEP. Programs and services are designed to support and strengthen students’ weaknesses and build on their strengths.
Once the IEP is developed, the team of experts identified to teach/support the child, is notified of the determination and provided access to the finalized IEP. In addition, at least one member of the CSE reviews the document with the classroom teacher(s) and other providers. The team may include special education teachers, reading teachers, school nurse, school counselors, social workers, related service providers (speech/language pathologists, school psychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, teachers of the hearing impaired and teachers of the visually impaired). The team members are determined by the student’s individualized needs.
The services and supports outlined in a school-aged student’s IEP are provided during the school-day as recommended by the CSE.
When the CPSE recommends services/supports for a preschool-aged child, the child receives supports through the collaboration and coordination of the student’s parents and school and/or county approved providing agency.
What is co-teaching?
Integrated co-teaching (ICT) services, as defined in regulation, means the provision of specially designed, academic instruction provided to a group of students with disabilities in mainstream (general education) classes. ICT is implemented in all SOCSD schools.
Within this model, a general education teacher and a special education teacher jointly provide instruction to a class that contains students with and without disabilities. They co-plan and prepare multi-sensory and differentiated lessons, activities and projects and both deliver instruction to all students employing a range of teaching strategies. All special education teachers in a co-teach partnership serve as case managers for students with IEPs.
What are special classes and individualized placements?
When determined by the CSE/CPSE, students are placed in a “special class.” This is a class consisting of only students with disabilities who have been grouped together based on similar individual needs for the purpose of receiving specially designed instruction in a smaller, self-contained setting. Students receive their primary instruction separate from their nondisabled peers and, therefore, in a more restrictive environment. Special classes are currently offered at South Orangetown Middle School and Tappan Zee High School; however, an annual review is conducted to assess need at each building.
Some students require individualized placements due to their specific disability. This is a challenging decision, because it is a more restrictive environment, made by the CSE/CPSE in conjunction with the parent/guardian. This process requires applications to be sent to all appropriate programs in New York State, as well as parental involvement in visiting placement options and participating in the interview process. Rockland BOCES is a key partner in providing these individualized placements.
What assistive technologies are available to SOCSD students?
SOCSD special education staff and related service providers rely on a variety of assistive technologies to help students access their curriculum and more effectively engage in their own learning. From low-tech to high-tech, there are a multitude of tools that South Orangetown students use.
Low-tech tools support students with delays in fine motor skills, self-regulation and handwriting/visual perceptual skills. Modifications may include incline boards, modified paper, pencil grips, modified pencils/crayons, alternative seating options, highlighters and modified scissors.
The District also utilizes an array of high-tech tools that are available to all students. In addition to audio books, all District-issued Chromebooks are equipped with speech-to-text capabilities and Kami, an app with features including voice typing, dark mode, read aloud and Open Dyslexic and Lexend fonts. Learning Ally, a service for students with Individualized Education Plans, is another source for audiobook resources. Other high tech tools include wearable FM systems that can transmit directly to an earpiece or to specially placed speakers to help students with central auditory processing disorder, hearing impairments or attentional issues.
What role do Related Service Providers play?
A host of professionals known as Related Service Providers work closely with general education and special education teachers, teaching assistants and teacher aides to provide services which address specific needs identified in students’ Individualized Education Plans. This includes speech/language pathologists, school psychologists, school social workers, school nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, teachers of the hearing impaired and teachers of the visually impaired.
Based on their unique IEP, a student may participate in general educational classes and receive a single service, such as speech/language. In other cases, students may be placed in different learning environments and/or receive multiple services, according to their individual needs.
How do transition support services prepare students for post-secondary success?
Transition supports are provided to all students with an IEP, as a means to help them prepare and plan for life after high school. Student voice is an important aspect of this planning.
New York State regulations indicate that students that at age 12 and those referred to special education for the first time that are age 12 and over, must participate in an assessment that includes a review of school records and teacher assessments, as well as parent and student interviews, in order to determine vocational skills, aptitudes and interests. This assessment is updated annually and is used to identify a starting point for the CSE to begin exploring career options for the student. The transition plan becomes a part of a student’s IEP during the academic year in which a student turns age 15.
There are two important components to every transition plan: post-secondary goals and transition services.
- Post-secondary goals identify what a student realistically plans to do after high school or upon turning age 21. Post-secondary goals are focused on four areas: vocational training, post-secondary education, job/employment skills and independent living skills. These goals are measurable and should be focused on what a student’s needs will be after high school. These goals are reviewed and updated annually, as they may change as the student approaches graduation or turning 21 years old.
- Transition services are provided to students to support them in achieving their post-secondary goals and are also reviewed and updated annually. These services include special education support within their classroom, related services (psychological counseling, speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, hearing impaired services and/or vision services), community experiences, college and career counseling and support for developing activities of daily living skills. These services may take place at school, but most occur within community experiences or at home.
Rockland BOCES offers a wide range of career and technical education programs that can be a good fit for students who plan to enter the workforce after high school.
What happens when a student no longer needs special education services?
The CSE/CPSE considers a student for declassification when updated testing is conducted and the effects of a student’s disability no longer prevent them from accessing the general education curriculum.
When students demonstrate the ability to access the general education curriculum without Special Education supports, the CSE/CPSE will determine that the student be declassified. At that time, the student’s Special Education supports will be terminated; however, the student may continue to receive testing accommodations/program modifications for one year after the date of declassification. When appropriate, the CSE/CPSE will recommend that a student be declassified with support services.
As defined under section 100.1(q) of the Regulations of the Commissioner, declassification with support services means that services provided to a student or a student’s teacher in the first year that a student moves from a special education program to a full-time general education program to aid the student in moving from special education to full-time general education. These support services include: psychological services, social work services, speech and language improvement services, non-career counseling, and other appropriate general education support services. The student’s teacher may also be provided with the assistance of a teacher aide or a teaching assistant and consultation with appropriate personnel.
Upon declassification with support services, the CSE/CPSE will indicate: the projected date of initiation of such services, the frequency of provision of services; and the duration of the services (services may be provided for up to one year after the student enters the full-time general education program). Following the CSE/CPSE meeting, the parents/guardians will receive a copy of the student’s last IEP with the declassification recommendations. This information will also be shared with the student’s general education teachers and providers.