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Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), every special needs student aged 3 to 21 completing his or her primary or secondary schooling in this country is entitled to a "free and appropriate education."
School districts are required to identify disabled students; conduct comprehensive annual assessments of their needs; create an Individualized Education Program that provides the child with a uniquely tailored curriculum; and pay for any required services, such as speech therapy and equipment.
Though more difficult, public school districts must also do the same for students enrolled in private schools.
The goal of the IDEA and Individualized Education Programs is to provide special needs students with the tools to graduate high school and to develop the skills necessary to live as independent adults.
To accomplish this latter goal, the U.S. Department of Education has developed a "least restrictive environment" policy.
Though an Individualized Education Program may require a student to spend some time in a separate classroom or studying slightly different material, schools are to make an effort to keep special needs students mainstreamed and available for participation in school events.
Schools are also to work with parents, who are encouraged to participate in the process and form part of the assessment team. Free mediation is available for parents who disagree with a proposed plan.
So if you think you have a special needs student at a public or private school who could benefit from extra services, contact your local school district or your child's teacher about starting the process. An Individualized Education Plan can make a world of difference.