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  • What is special education?
    • Special education programs in Georgia are governed by both federal and state law. However, state law can never limit federal protections but in no circumstances may state provisions limit the protections offered under federal law. 
    • Under both federal and state law, school districts must provide each student with a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE), regardless of disabilities.
  • Who is eligible for special education?


    • Children between three and twenty-one years old with a qualifying disability are able to receive special education and related aid. 
    • Eligible children are those who have: 
      • Emotional, 
      • Physical, 
      • Communicative, 
      • Or intellectual deviations that interfere with school achievements, adjustments, or academic attainment 
      • And who require alterations in their educational programs. 
    • Eligible disabilities include: 
      • Blindness. 
      • Deaf/hard of hearing. 
      • speech-language impairment. 
      • visual impairment (including blindness). 
      • emotional and behavioral disorder. 
      • orthopedic impairment. 
      • autism spectrum disorder. 
      • traumatic brain injury. 
      • other health impairment. 
      • specific learning disability. 
      • significant developmental delay. 
      • Intellectual disability (mild, moderate, severe, profound). 

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1401(3); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.8; O.C.G.A. § 20-2-152; 20-2-240, Ga. Comp.R & Regs 160-4-7-.05 (2010).

    • To determine eligibility, local educational authority may evaluate: 
      • aptitude and achievement tests, 
      • parent input, 
      • teacher recommendations, 
      • information about the child’s physical condition, 
      • social or cultural background and adaptive behavior 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.05-2 (2010).

    • A child is not eligible for special education if the determining factor in the child’s special needs is: 
      • A lack of appropriate instruction in reading, 
      • A lack of instruction in math, 
      • Limited English proficiency 
      • Environmental factors 
      • Cultural factors 
      • Economic factors 

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(b)(5); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.306(b)(1)-(2).

    • Children up to 4 years old with severe disabling conditions may be eligible for special education services through: 
      • Programs operated by state schools for the handicapped, 
      • Psychoeducational programs,
      • Programs supported with local or federal funds specifically designated for this purpose.
  • What type of education are children with a qualifying disability entitled to? What is a “free appropriate public education”?


    • Under both federal and state law, school districts must provide each student with a disability with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). 
    • FAPE means special education and related services that are: 

    1. Are provided without charge, 
    2. Meet appropriate standards, 
    3. Include preschool through secondary education, 
    4. Conform with an Individual Education Program (IEP). Title 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Sec. 1401(9); Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Section (Sec.) 300.17.

    • Special education must be provided in the local educational agency’s least restrictive environment (LRE), and, when appropriate, with students who are not disabled. 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.114. 
    • Special education guarantees specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of the child, at no cost to the parent:
      • “adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child…the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child’s disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that he or she can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children.” 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.38(b)(3). 
      • An “appropriate” educational program and placement is one which is designed to meet a student’s unique needs in accordance to his or her individualized education plan (IEP) and allows him or her to obtain “educational benefit” (which can include assistive technology). Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.02 (2007).
  • In addition to a free appropriate public education, are there other services a child with a disability is entitled to? What are “related services”?


    • In addition to being required to provide a free appropriate public education, school districts are required to provide free “related services.” 
    • Related services include transportation and other developmental, corrective, and supportive services that are required to assist a child with a disability to succeed. 
    • Related services may include: 
      • speech-language pathology and audiology services, 
      • interpreting services, 
      • psychological services, 
      • physical and occupational therapy, 
      • recreation, including therapeutic recreation, 
      • early identification and assessment of disabilities in children, 
      • counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling, 
      • orientation and mobility services, and, 
      • medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes, 
      • school health services, 
      • school nurse services, 
      • social work services in schools, 
      • parent counseling and training. 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.21 (2007).

  • Who provides special education?
    • The state education agency and the local school district are both responsible for providing special education services. If the school district fails, the Georgia Department of Education is ultimately responsible for providing special education services. 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1413(a)(1); 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412(a)(11); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.149;.
  • Where should a child receive his/her special education and related services? What is a “least restrictive environment”?
    • Special education must be provided in a least restrictive environment
      • Children with disabilities must be educated with their nondisabled peers (to the maximum extent appropriate). 
      • Students with disabilities may be removed from the regular educational environment only when the nature or severity of the disability cannot be fully cared for in the regular educational environment.

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1412 (a)(5)(A); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.114.

    • Specialized education can be offered in
      • the mainstream classroom,  
      • in a resource room, 
      • at home, 
      • in hospitals or residential programs.
    • If a child’s needs cannot be adequately met in the mainstream classroom with accommodations and services, the IEP team may decide that a specialized environment or setting is necessary.
  • How is a child determined to be eligible for special education? Is there an assessment or evaluation?
    • Districts may use a variety of strategies to ensure that students who may need special education and related services are identified and evaluated, such as: 
      • Placing printed notices in local newspapers and in local public agencies, 
      • Promoting “Child Find” on local television and radio stations, 
      • Notifying public and private childcare facilities and preschools of “Child Find” activities, 
      • Using their websites to publicize “Child Find” information. 
    • Districts must conduct comprehensive “Child Find” activities
      • For children in kindergarten through 12th grade in public schools, “Child Find” is accomplished through the Georgia Student Achievement Pyramid of Interventions. It is a framework of instructional interventions that begins with standards-based classrooms. These are the foundations for teaching and learning. 
    • The district must conduct (or arrange for) a comprehensive evaluation that: 
      • Provides sufficient academic, functional, and developmental data to determine whether the student has a disability;
      • Documents how the disability affects the student’s academics or behavior in school; 
      • Provides appropriate information for the development of an IEP; 
    • And assesses
      • Health, 
      • Vision, 
      • Hearing, 
      • Social and emotional status 
      • General intelligence, 
      • Academic performance, 
      • Communicative status, 
      • Motor abilities. 
    • A student can be referred for an evaluation by: 
      • A Student Support Team (SST) when it can support an assertion that a disability may be the primary cause of the student’s learning or behavior problem(s), 
      • A parent. 
    • If the referral is made by parental request, the district can either agree to or refuse the request. If the district refuses, it must give the parent written notice explaining: 
      • The reason(s) why it is declining an evaluation, 
      • What data the decision was based upon, 
      • Other factors considered. 
    • The parents then have the right to request a due process hearing to seek a favorable ruling to conduct an evaluation. 
    • If an evaluation is requested, the district must: 
      • Give the parent a copy of “Your Rights as Parents – Special Education,” 
      • Provide an explanation to ensure that the parent understands their rights, 
      • A translated copy of the manual in the parent’s native language when possible: 
        • Translations may be accessed online at the Parents’ Rights link on the Special Education web page of the Georgia Department of Education website. 
      • Obtain a signed, informed parental consent for evaluation, 
      • Complete the evaluation process within 60 calendar days after a district employee receives the signed consent (development and implementation of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) can take up to 30 additional days) 
    • If the parent refuses to give consent for the evaluation, the district may pursue the evaluation through mediation or a due process hearing. Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.04-1 (2010). 
    • Before performing the evaluation, the local educational agency must provide notice to the parents of the child suspected to have a disability. 
    • Evaluations of children with disabilities who transfer from one local school to another in the same school year are coordinated to ensure prompt and thorough completion of evaluations. 34 C.F.R. § 300.304(c)(5) 
    • After completing the administration of tests and other evaluation measures, the Eligibility Team, a group of qualified professionals and the parents of the child, determines whether the child has a disability and the educational needs of the child. 
      • The local educational agency provides a copy of the evaluation report and the documentation of determination of eligibility at no cost to the parents. 34 C.F.R. § 300.306(a)(l)-(2) 
    • If it is determined that a child has a disability, the disability affects educational performance (academic, functional and/or developmental), and the child needs special education and related services, an eligibility document and IEP must be developed for the child. 34 C.F.R. § 300.306(c)(2), O.C.G.A. § 20-2-152; 20-2-240, 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.04-7 (2010).

    • If the parent disagrees with the findings or recommendations, the parent may request an independent education evaluation (IEE) at no cost, which must be considered at the child’s IEP. 34 C.F.R. § 300.502, 

    O.C.G.A. § 20-2-152; 20-2-240; 20-2-720 ; Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.09-9 (2010).

  • Once a child is identified as being eligible for special education, what are the next steps? What is an “IEP” (Individualized Education Program)? Do parents have any say so in the IEP?
    • Once it is determined that a child is eligible for special education, an Individualized Education Plan (frequently referred to as an “IEP”) is developed for that child. 
      • An IEP outlines the educational program for the student. 
    • It is developed at a meeting by the IEP team including: 
      • The parent(s), 
      • At least one special education teacher, 
      • At least one regular education teacher, 
      • A district representative or school administrator. 
    • Other participants may include: 
      • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, 
      • Other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, 
      • The child, if appropriate. 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.06-3 (2007).

    • The IEP must include
      • The student’s levels of educational achievement and functional performance, 
      • Measurable annual goals, 
      • A description of short-term objectives, 
      • A description of how the child’s progress toward goals will be measured and reported, 
      • A statement of the specific special education services and supplementary aids to be provided, 
      • An explanation of the extent to which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in regular education classes and extracurricular activities, 
      • The projected date for the beginning of the services and the anticipated duration, frequency, and location of services and modifications, 
      • A statement of any individual accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and district-wide assessments, 
      • The local educational agency, 
      • A statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided to enable the child to advance toward attaining annual goals, to make progress in the general education curriculum and to participate in extracurricular and other nonacademic activities, 
      • Transition services needed for students 16 years or older. 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.06-3 (2007).

    • Informed parental consent must be given before initial special education and related services can be provided to a child with a disability. 

    34 C.F.R. § 300.300(b)(1), Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.09-9 (2010).

    • If a parent doesn’t agree with the IEP, the IEP does not have to be signed. However, services may begin in an IEP as indicated unless the parent requests a due process hearing to “freeze” the process until the disagreement can be resolved. 
    • If a due process hearing is requested, the previous IEP will still be in effect. Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.09-9 (2010). 
    • If a student with an IEP moves from one school district to another in the same school year, (within Georgia or from another state), the new district must provide FAPE to the child until the new local educational authority either: 
      • Adopts the child’s IEP from the previous local educational authority, 
      • Or develops, adopts and implements a new IEP. 

    Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.06-6 (2007)

  • Can a special education student be disciplined?
    • Students with disabilities may be suspended for any one of the misbehaviors on the list of prohibited activities that applies to all students in the student discipline code O.C.G.A. Secs. 20-2-133, 20-2-150, 20-2-152, 20-2-168, 20-2-240, 20-2-735, 20-2-736, 20-2-738, 20-2-741, 20-2-750 to 20-2-766.1, 20-2-1160. Ga. Comp. R & Regs 160-4-7-.10 (2010). 
    • School personnel may remove a child with a disability who violates a code of student conduct from his or her current placement, for not more than 10 consecutive school days, to an appropriate interim alternative educational setting, 
    • For additional removals of not more than 10 consecutive school days in that same school year for separate incidents of misconduct (as long as those removals do not constitute a change of placement), the student may be moved to another setting or suspension (to the same extent those alternatives are applied to children without disabilities) 

    34 C.F.R. § 300.530(b)(1); 34 C.F.R.§ 300.536.

    • A child with a disability who is removed from his or her current placement for more than 10 consecutive school days must continue to receive educational services so as to enable the child to: 
      • Continue to participate in the general educational curriculum, 
      • Progress toward meeting the goals set out in the child’s IEP, 
      • Receive a functional behavioral assessment, behavioral intervention services, and modifications as set forth in the behavioral intervention plan and IEP (where appropriate), 

    34 C.F.R. § 300.530(d)(1)(i) – (ii).

    • The child must also first have a manifestation determination meeting unless the student: 
      • Is involved with drugs, 
      • Is involved with weapons, 
      • Presents a danger to himself, herself, or others. 20 U.S.C. Sec 1415(k)(1)(G). 
    • In such circumstances, the district may place the student in an interim alternative setting for up to 45 days

    20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k).

    • A manifestation determination meeting is a meeting of the relevant members of the IEP team to determine whether a child with a disability may be expelled or have his placement changed for more than 10 consecutive school days for misconduct (held within 10 days of the school’s decision). 
    • The team must consider

    1) Was the behavior caused by, or did it have a direct and substantial relationship to, the child’s
    2) Was the behavior the direct result of the school’s failure to implement the IEP?

    • If the team answers yes to either question, the child cannot be expelled and a placement change would require the consent of the parent or a hearing officer’s order. 
    • If the team determines that the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, the child must return to his or her original placement, do a behavioral assessment, or the existing behavior plan must be modified unless the parents and school agree otherwise. 
    • If the team denies that the behavior is a manifestation of the child’s disability, the parent may appeal by requesting a due process hearing. The appeal should be resolved within 30 days, and in the interim, the child remains in the interim educational setting. 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1415(k)(1)(F); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.530(f).
  • Can parents see the school records of their special education child?
    • A parent is has the right to inspect, review and get a copy of all of a child’s school records
      • These rights include: 
        • The right to a response from the local educational agency to reasonable requests for explanations and interpretations of the records, 
        • The right to request the local educational agency to provide copies of the records, 
        • The right to have a representative of the parent to inspect and review the records. 
    • All rights of parents to examine education records shall transfer to the child at age 18.
  • Where to go for more information:

    Parent to Parent of Georgia
    770-451-5484 or 800-229-2038

    Georgia Department of Education, Division for Special Education Services and Supports
    404-656-3963 or 800-311-3627 and ask to be transferred to Special Education

    Georgia Department of Education Implementation Manual

    For additional resources: Contact the Special Education Director of your school system.