Granite State College, Concord, NH: Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Certification Program
Dual certification: Special Education and Elementary Education (K-8)
Highly Qualified Teacher (HQT): Early Childhood and Elementary Education
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY: Bachelor of Arts, International Relations with a minor in Economics
2016-2017 begins my 8th year at Centre School and second year as a Special Education Case Manager for grades one and two! Prior to working in the field of special education, I served as a Title 1 reading interventionist and math support interventionist at Centre School.
What is a Special Education Case Manager?
A special education case manager helps ensure that students with disabilities are provided timely and effective academic supports and related services within the least restrictive environment (see definition below). It includes organizing specific activities that lead to effective and timely decision making about an individual student's needs through a collaborative and open team process. 1 Special education law and procedures are based on protecting the rights of students with disabilities. In short, a special education case manager is charged with being a great advocate for their students and a great instructor.
1 Adapted from Carol Kosnitsky's Case Management Academy
Special Education Law:
At the end of the 19th century, children with disabilites were served in segregated settings. It was not unusual for these students to be excluded from school. By the mid 20th century, there was a shift in such thinking and major lawsuits and legislation ensued. By 1975, a landmark piece of legislation was enacted to protect individuals with disabilities: The Education of All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142). Simply put, this legislation required all school districts to meet the needs of students with disabilites. Since 1975, this law has been reauthorized many times, most recently in 2004. It is now known as The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") and this law asserts six major principles that have come to define special education law today.
The Six Major Principles of IDEA:
- Free and appropriate education: Students with disabilities are entitled to educational services at public expense and in conformity with their IEP (Individualized Education Plan)
- Appropriate Evaluations: Students with disabilities must be appropriately assessed for eligibility determination, programming and monitoring.
- IEP: The "Individualized Education Plan" is the document that determines the academic supports and related services (such as speech therapy, physical therapy or occupational therapy) that the student needs in order to access the general curriculum.
- Least Restrictive Environment: The presumption that students with disabilites are most appropriately educated with their non-disabled peers. (Students with disabilities are not to be segregated as they once were unless that is where they are most appropriately educated).
- Parent participation in decision making: Parents are full members of the IEP team and all decision making.
- Procedural Safeguards: Safeguards ensure that parents and children are aware of their rights during the special education process.
What is the special education process?
The special education process refers to the necessary steps to identify a student with a disability. Firstly, this involves a referral (when a teacher or parent requests that a child be evaluated for special education). Secondly, there is an evaluation (if it is determined that there is enough data to support a special education evaluation). This might include cognitive, academic, speech/language, and occupational therapy evaluations. Under NH law, these evaluations must be completed and reviewed within 45 days of receiving parental/guardian permission to test. Upon completion of the 45-day evaluation period, the IEP team reconvenes to discuss the results and determine if the child has an educational disability. This third step is known as the determination of eligibility. Under IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), there are thirteen categories of educational disabilities that the team can consider:
- emotional disturbance
- hearing impairment
- intellectual disability (generally perceived to be an IQ of less than 70)
- multiple disabilites
- orthopedic impairment
- other health impairment
- specific learning disability(7 types: oral expression, listening comp, written expression, basic reading skill, reading comp, math calculation and math reasoning)
- speech-language impairment
- traumatic brain injury
- visual impairment (including blindness)
- developmental delay (for a student who is age 3-9 who is experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development). *The category Developmental Delay is defined in IDEA however, not all states require that school districts adopt and use the term. NH however, does adopt and use the term.
Based upon the evaluation data the team will answer questions and determine the presence of an educational disability. If the team considers that there is not the presence of a disability, the special education process ends there. However, if the team determines that there is a disability, they must answer one more very cricitcal question: "Does the disability require that the student receive specially designed instruction?" If the team answers affirmatively to that question, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is created.
The IEP is the document that addresses the student's academic and/or health related needs and how those needs will be addressed. The team has 30 (thirty) days from the determination of eligibility date to draft and present the IEP to the team. If the team determines that the educational disability does NOT require special education, then the team will consider the need for a "504" plan. (see below)
Once a student is identified as having an educational disability, the evaluation process is repeated every three years to see if child still has an educational disability and eligible for specially designed instruction. This is known as "the three year evaluation."
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AND IEP AND A 504 PLAN?
Again, the special education process is: referral, evaluation, determination of eligibility, and IEP (If a child is identified and needs specially designed instruction). However, what if a child is determined to have a disability but, they do NOT require specially designed instruction? Examples of this could include a student who has a hearing impairment (which is one of the categories of disabilites) but does NOT require specially designed instruction as their academics are not being affected. Another example might be a student who has ADHD, and is identified with the educational disability of Other Health Impaired but does not require specially designed instruction as their academics are at grade level.
In each case, the team answered affirmatively that the students did have a disability however, they don't require specially designed instruction and therefore, do not require an IEP. In each case, these students would be best served with what is called a "504 plan."
A 504 plan is supported and driven by an entirely different law! If the special education process is driven by the Individuals with Disabilties Education Act ("IDEA"), which is the law that provides individualized special education and related services to meet the unique needs of the child, the 504 plan is covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law designed to stop discrimation against people with disabilities.
A 504 plan includes many accommodations, supports and services and is a plan for how a child with an identified disability, will have access to learning while they are in school. Looking at the example of the student with the hearing impairment, their 504 plan might include the use of an FM system so that they can hear everything the teacher says, instructions always written down, preferential seating, or an aide in the classroom. This child does not need specially designed instruction in any academic areas (this would be covered in an IEP) however, they have a disability and they need accommodations, supports and services that help them access learning.