Working with Students with Disabilities

Section 3: Working with Students with Disabilities

I will never forget my first IEP meeting. I was so nervous that I said the same thing three times and finally said, ‘I’m going to stop talking now.’ — Lacy Lemon

The two primary laws governing the rights of disabled students, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both state a preference for educating students with disabilities in the regular classroom to the maximum extent appropriate. As a result, regular and special education teachers need to become educated about their rights and responsibilities when working with these children.

You have the right and obligation to read, understand, and implement the Individualized Education Program (IEP) of any child in your class.

IDEA requires that at least one regular education teacher who has or will have a special education student in class must be a member of the IEP Team. Whenever you feel it necessary, you should request to attend an IEP meeting of any child in your class.

If you are a member of the IEP Team, you have the right to freely express your professional opinion regarding the best program and services for a child. Even if you are not a member of the IEP Team, you may provide the team with your written input regarding one of your students at any time.

If you disagree with the conclusions reached by the IEP Team, you should file a written dissenting opinion that clearly and concisely expresses your professional opinion and explains why you disagree with the decisions made by the IEP Team. It is illegal for a school district to threaten, intimidate, or retaliate against you because you have advocated for a student with a disability.

Parents of children with special needs often feel isolated and uncertain about their children’s future. Schools can help parents find the facts and support they need to understand that they are not alone and that help is available within the community as well as the school. Teachers can help parents feel comfortable discussing their children’s future by listening to the parents—who know their children better than anyone else— and by explaining school programs and answering questions in words that parents can easily understand.

Specific programs define the relationship between teachers and parents of children with special needs with specific guidelines too detailed to summarize here. In addition to these guidelines, some general advice is available for teachers, including the following:

  • Make it clear to parents that you accept them as advocates who have an intense desire to make life better for their children.
  • Provide parents with information about support groups, special services in the school, and the community and family-to-family groups.
  • Offer to give parents referrals to helpful groups. Encourage parents to organize support systems, pairing families who can share experiences with each other during school activities.
  • Involve parents in specific projects centered around hobbies or special skills that parents can share with students in classes.

This section is excerpted from Reaching All Families: Creating Family- Friendly Schools, published by the U.S. Department of Education.

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