By Karen Lerfald, Director of Special Services
I have been fortunate enough to oversee the Special Education Department in the Hutchinson Public Schools for the past four years. As the Director of Special Services, I work with staff who are supporting children with disabilities from birth to age 22. Hutchinson is fortunate to have so many talented special education teachers and paraprofessionals who work with the varying needs of our students with disabilities.
As a parent you may wonder what is special education. Special Education is not a one size fits all approach. The core of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), our nation’s special education law, is to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). The LRE refers to students with disabilities being educated with their peers in the general education classroom as much as possible.
If you have concerns about how your child is achieving in school, there are many options to try before jumping into a special education evaluation. Hutchinson has a number of academic and behavior interventions, which can be tried before a special education evaluation. If you have a concern, and your child is in grades K-12, reach out to your child’s teacher, counselor, or principal. If you have a child or have observed a child ages birth-5, who you feel is struggling, you can make a referral to Help Me Grow, https://helpmegrowmn.org/HMG/Refer/index.html. Help Me Grow will immediately send a referral to the child’s resident district.
Once school staff is aware of a concern, they will set up a meeting with the school intervention team to discuss pre-referral interventions. Pre-referral interventions happen prior to the start of a special education evaluation. If the child is able to demonstrate appropriate growth with these pre-referral interventions, the school assessment team does not need to move forward with a referral to a special education evaluation. Otherwise the team, including the parent(s)/ guardian(s), come together to discuss an Evaluation Plan. The Evaluation plan will list the assessments that will be conducted to determine if your child is eligible for special education services. It is important to note that the assessment team cannot move forward with an initial assessment without parental consent.
Once the parent signs the Evaluation Plan, the assessment team can meet with the student and test. Paperwork will also be sent to the family to complete. The input of parents and guardians is essential to obtain well-rounded information on the child. The birth to 3 team needs to complete the evaluation in 45 calendar days, and the K-12 team has 30 school days to complete the assessment.
If your child is found eligible for special education services, parents will be asked to participate in an Individualized Education Program meeting (IEP). The team will consist of the student (when appropriate), parents, a special education and regular education teacher, a district or building administrator, and related service providers. The team will create an IEP that will be in effect for one calendar year. The IEP includes the child’s present levels, goals and objectives, the least restrictive environment statement, as well as other important information for the IEP team. The team meets annually to review progress and update the IEP. The evaluation needs to be completed every 3 years.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have concerns regarding your child. Staff are interested in helping your child be successful at school, home, and in the community.