The current course readings have revealed to me the magnitude of changes which special education has undergone over the years, particularly the legal provisions that govern its operation in the United States. Today the key determinant of physical placement is no longer on the student’s level of disability as was earlier but on the need to modify the learning and teaching with the aim of accommodating students of all capabilities in the same classrooms.
The United States Presidential National Council on Disability sums it in few words that, special education should be taken not as a ‘place’ but as but as ‘a service, available to every school. ’ [National Disability Council, (1994)] I must admit that this is new information to me; hence it has completely changed my perception and attitude towards special education. Initially I regarded special needs learning as a situation whereby those children who are deaf, blind, dumb, or mentally retarded are put in a special school that provides special learning experiences to them.
The law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – IDEA) now provides that children with disabilities should be placed together in regular classrooms alongside other non-disabled ones. Further the law provides that special classes or removal of children with disabilities from regular classrooms should be made only in situations whereby the nature or severity of the disability hinders learning in regular classes even with the use of additional learning aids. [Public Law No. 108-446, 118 Stat. 647]
As an educator I now have to enrich my skills and knowledge on as many teaching methods as possible in order to provide individualized instructional experiences to the special needs students alongside the regular ones. For instance, I will need to improve on proper communication skills and improve on the mastery of the content areas so as to be in a position to successfully choose the most appropriate methodology to apply when giving Individualized Educational Programs (IEP) to the disabled children.
I should also familiarize my self with the legal provisions that govern special education particularly in distinguishing who is disabled and who is not, who qualifies for IEP and who does not. [Public Law No. 108-446, 118 Stat. 2647] These additional skills and knowledge are available in a variety of sources. Quite a number of published materials exist in most state libraries or even online. Legal experts specializing in educational law can offer vital knowledge especially on hard-to-interpret areas of the law.
Having learned about the legal provisions on special education recently makes me very curious to learn more in order to completely shed the shell of ignorance that I had confined myself in. Again, being an educator I am bound to learn all that regards the profession. Further, I must say that the whole thing poses a professional challenge to me, in that it prompts me to dig deeper for more skills in order to remain relevant in the profession – able to handle students with disabilities alongside the regular ones and to provide IEPs to those who qualifies according to the law.
So far I can claim that I have acquired considerable amount of knowledge and skills to handle students with diverse needs, I have also gained considerable knowledge about the legal brackets within which I should operate. This is better explained by the fact that I am currently handling a small class that comprises of both students with disabilities and those without. The class also includes one student who is under IEP and I was a member of the team that conducted the student’s evaluation to ascertain whether the IEP was necessary.