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Public school principals play an important role in the special education process. What once was the responsibility of the special education director, is now the responsibility of the building principal. Following are some key things that principals need to know about special education.
Identification of students. Under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school districts are accountable to locate all children within the district. If there is an existing disability, or suspect of a disability, than a referral needs to be made. For children whose parents choose to place them in private schools or to teach them at home, the school is responsible to let parents know the special education rights of students. The referral process, identification, etc. is the same procedure as for public school students. Schools can request that services be provided at the school, rather than making arrangements to provide services at home. However, if these steps are neglected and a parent arranges for services for a special needs child, the school may be liable for the cost of the services.
IEPs. Once a student is identified as having a handicapping condition, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) needs to write an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The building principal is responsible in making sure that the IEP is implemented and adhered to. If a plan calls for an 1:1 aide, inclusion, large print worksheets, etc., the principal needs to make sure these things are all in place.
Faculty/Staff. All faculty/staff who are in direct contact with a special needs student, must read and understand the child's IEP. Principals need to keep documentation that the IEPs have been read. In addition, if there's a need for training or specific teacher resources, then the principal must ensure that this is taken care of. If a situation goes to court and a teacher responds with, "I didn't know what was in his IEP", then the district will most likely lose the case.
Procedural safeguards. At least once a year, parents are to receive a copy of the "Procedural Safeguards Notice", which explains their legal rights under federal and State laws regarding the special education process. If any of these rights are violated, a parent has the right to file for due process. Whenever possible, school districts need to encourage parents to go through mediation first. Otherwise, a due process hearing can be very expensive and time consuming.
Discipline. Principals need to discipline students with special needs on a case-by-case basis. The district has a right to immediately remove a special needs child from his current placement up to ten days for misconduct. A manifestation determination must be held. If the child has been removed for more than ten days, then educational services need to be provided and outlined in an Interim Alternative Education Setting (IAES).
As described above, the building principal plays a key role in the provision of special education and related services to students with special needs. If an IEP is not being followed, or other rights of a special needs student have been violated, the principal is held accountable. It's crucial that administrators have an understanding of special education and their role.