Educating Children with Disabilities
The Fairfax County Public Schools, (FCPS) is the 12th largest school system in the nation, with over 173,000 students educated in 197 schools and centers (2009/2010 school year); of these over 24,000 students receive special education services. In accordance with the Virginia Constitution, the state provides for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth. Additionally, the Code of Virginia charges the Virginia Board of Education with preparing and supervising a program of special education in each school district designed to educate and train children with disabilities aged 2-21 on a comparable basis to that provided to children without disabilities in the public school system.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The requirement for special education was standardized throughout the nation by the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, and was reauthorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004.
The basic purpose of IDEA is based on the fundamental notion that special education and related services are to be designed to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities to prepare them for opportunities in post-secondary education, employment, and independent living. IDEA guarantees a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for all children with disabilities. The services and placement of students with disabilities who need special education is the responsibility of the local public schools, in our case, the FCPS system.
Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.
Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C.
The process of identifying children who may need special education is called ChildFind. Child Find screenings are provided by the FCPS Department of Special Services and are free for children ages 20 months to five years old who reside in Fairfax County or Fairfax City. The screenings measure a child’s development against developmental milestones which are specific tasks that most children can do by a certain age. These tasks involve the developmental skills associated with daily living, and when a child does not reach developmental milestones at the expected times, and/or shows concern in the developmental process, early intervention may be indicated and a determination made that the child is eligible for special education services.
Early Intervention Services are services provided for children who have not been identified as needing special education but who require academic or behavioral support to succeed in general education.
For children younger than three years old, the Infant Toddler Connection of Fairfax-Falls Church will provide services to eligible children. The most common services provided include physical therapy, special instruction, speech therapy, and occupational therapy. The service is typically provided in the home or daycare and focuses on consulting with parents and caregivers about ways to promote developmental in their daily activities.
The Fairfax County Early Childhood Special Education Preschool Program serves children ages 2 (by September 30th) to 5 who have been identified as having significant developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: speech, language, fine and/or gross motor, social/emotional, vision and hearing. Children who may be in need of special education or related services are referred to Child Find for information, developmental screenings and possible referral for additional comprehensive evaluations to determine eligibility for services.
Special education services are based on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which is developed with the parents of each child who is eligible. The IEP is a written plan that describes the student’s learning needs and the special education services to be provided to meet those needs. The IEP is quite comprehensive, including goals, curriculum, testing and assessments, and details concerning the level and extent of student participation. It also addresses any needed transition services for life after school.
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act requires that all students, including those with disabilities, be assessed on statewide accountability measures, i.e. Standards of Learning (SOL). In Virginia, students with disabilities may participate in SOL assessments in the same manner that non-disabled students participate, or they may participate with standard or non-standard accommodations. These assessments are made in grades 3-8 and at the end of certain high school courses. SOL assessments measure student achievement in English, mathematics, science, and history/social science. Virginia has alternative assessments for students who are unable to take the general statewide assessments.
The IDEA is not the only law that affects students with disabilities. Having a physical disability may not be enough to be eligible for special education. For example, a child who uses a wheelchair could be a child with a disability, but if that disability does not interfere with his/her ability to participate in the general education process, that child would not be eligible for special education. But he/she does need access to the school building and its programs. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are civil rights laws that apply to students; they guarantee access to programs and services in schools and higher education.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education. FERPA gives parents rights over their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student at age 18 or when he/she attends school beyond the high school level. In short, FERPA gives parents and students the right to examine education records, ask schools to correct mistakes in education records, and give permission for schools to release education records.
Special Education Resources
Advisory Committee for Students with Disabilities (ACSD)
An advisory board that assists FCPS in developing long range plans for special education services to include the development of priorities and strategies to meet identified needs of students with disabilities.
The Arc of Northern Virginia
Provides advocacy and direct services for families and children and adults living with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Autism Society of Northern Virginia
Provide supports, information, training, and awarenessto people with autism and their families.
Brain Injury Services, Inc.
Provides community-based services, education, andadvocacy to people who are affected by brain injury.
Children & Adults w/ Attention Deficit /Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) -Northern VA
703- 641-5451 www.novachadd.org
Provides information and support to parents of peoplewith attention deficit disorders.
Council for Exceptional Children
Professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of individuals with disabilities.
Online resource that provides free information toVirginians with disabilities.
ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia
A community-based resource and advocacy centerwhich is managed by and for people with disabilities.
Fairfax County Disability Services Planning & Development
Provides information & referral services, technical assistance on disability laws, advocacy assistance, education, and outreach activities for people with disabilities in the Fairfax area.
Fairfax County Public Schools
Parent Resource Center
Provides information on special education, relatedservices and community resources for childrenwith disabilities and their families.
Preschool Child Find
Provides a continuum of Early Childhood Special Education services to children with possible or identified developmental delays.
Fairfax County Therapeutic Recreation Services
Provides opportunities for children and adults with disabilitiesso they may acquire the skills that enable them to participate in the recreation and leisure programs of their choice.
Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board
Partners with individuals, families, and the community toempower and support individuals with or at risk of developmental delay, intellectual disabilities, mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse or dependency.
Infant & Toddler Connection of Fairfax-Falls Church
Provides free developmental evaluations from children birth to 36 months and early intervention services to eligible infants and toddlers who have a developmental delay and who are younger than three years old.
Jewish Social Service Agency
Provides support, counseling, advocacy, employment services, life skills training, and growth and learning programs to children and adults with disabilities and their families.
Northern Virginia Resource Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons
703-352-9055, 703-352-9056 (TTY) www.nvrc.org
Provides programs for all ages from newborns to olderadults with hearing loss.
Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center
Provides services, supports, and training for parents ofstudents with disabilities.
U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
Implements and enforces the provisions of IDEA on the national level.
Virginia Department of Education
Administers the statewide special education program through the Division of Special Education.
Provides parents, advocates, educators, and attorneys with accurate, up-to-date information about special education law and advocacy so they can be effective catalysts.