Special education is instruction that is designed to meet the needs of children with disabilities. Special education falls under IDEA the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Essentially it says that every child regardless of their disabilities has the right to a free and appropriate public education or FAPE. IDEA itself is a federally mandated law, however, each state and even each school district can interpret these laws in different ways. The result is that more than three decades after the law was passed special education is still just an “idea” and not a reality for many children in this country. Many excuses for this situation are given. The bottom line though is providing appropriate special education is expensive.
In the long run, not providing appropriate special education is going to prove even more expensive. These children fall through the cracks of our society and are likely to end up in the penal system. The loss in tax money to support them in prison and the loss of productivity in society they might have provided given appropriate education services is likely to far outstrip the cost of providing appropriate services to them as children. The average yearly cost of supporting a federal prisoner is twenty to forty thousand dollars a year. We can pay upfront in programs that will help at risk and special needs children get the training and education they need to be productive members of society or we can pay later in prison cost, lost and damaged property, loss of life, loss of resources and loss of productivity. America has one of the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world and many if not most of these prisoners were in special education at one point or another. What we’re doing now is obviously not working.
Navigating special education for your child means you will be dealing with a bureaucracy. The local school system is a bureaucracy attempting to defend itself from what it perceives as unreasonable demands from the government to provide special education services. Their primary concern is not your child. It is with their bureaucracy as a whole. Although you will come across teachers who resent having to provide interventions for your child, the teachers in the trenches are not the primary problem with special education. They are generally trying to do the best they can in this bureaucracy that doesn’t always provide the support they need either.
School system vary in how well they deal with the issues of special education. If you live in a school system such as the one I lived in, you will have to fight for every service your child receives and in the end, you probably won’t win without a really good attorney and a great deal of money. There are supposedly free legal services to help parents in conflicts with the school. I called every name on my school districts list. No one was available to help me, so much for free low cost legal services. The school system however, will definitely have an attorney well versed in IDEA law on retainer coaching them every step of the way in any conflict.
Your best course of action to obtain services for your child is to educate yourself. I provide a few links that are good places to start.