Special Education addresses the education needs of children in the District who have identifiable disabilities, from age 3 until age 21, or until they receive their high school diplomas. In consonance with state requirements, the District arranges for multi-disciplinary evaluations, which for 3-5 year-olds is conducted by County-approved providers, and for school-age children age 5-21 by District personnel, supplemented by outside specialists when appropriate.
Following evaluation, children age 3-5 receive educational and therapeutic services, arranged by the District through contracts with County-approved agencies. Children ages 5-21 receive school-based services through District staff, including special education teachers, psychologists, and physical, occupational and speech therapists. For children who need additional resources not available within the District, arrangements are made with other school districts, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) or State-approved private schools.
An Individual Educational Plan (IEP), which addresses the unique needs of the individual learner, is drawn up for all children who have difficulties affecting their ability to learn. The IEP for every student is reviewed annually; the District conducts a comprehensive re-evaluation every three years. On the average, about 400 school-age children and 100 pre-school children with identified disabilities have IEP's to guide their education each year.
The overriding principle by which Special Education operates is to offer services in the least restrictive environment that is, to the maximum extent appropriate, providing an education in the same manner as it is provided to every other child, alongside peers in a general educational environment -- in their home district, in their home classrooms. Only if a multi-disciplinary team concludes that a child's needs are not being addressed in the general classroom will that child be placed in a special education setting for some part or all of the day.
Special Education is often called upon for another population of students: those who do not have disabilities requiring specialized instruction, but who have certain medical conditions (such as cardiovascular or neurological conditions or severe allergies), and need an environment or assistance that addresses their physical limitations. For those students, a school-based team (called a 504 Committee, after Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act) devises a plan to meet their needs, which is most often implemented by Special Education.