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Special Education FAQ

What is "special education"?

As defined by California Education Code (section 56031), special education is:

Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of individuals with exceptional needs, whose educational needs cannot be met with modification of the general instruction program; and Related services that help individuals with special needs to benefit from specially designed instruction. Special education is an integral part of the total public education system. Other features of special education are:

  1. It is provided in a way that promotes maximum interaction between students with and without disabilities in a manner which is appropriate to the needs of both;
  2. Services are provided at no cost to parents;
  3. It provides a full range of program options to meet the educational and service requirements of individuals with exceptional needs in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The LRE is generally the setting that is most similar to those attended by general education students.

Who is eligible for special education services?

Special Education is specialized instruction provided for children from birth to age 22 who qualify according to the laws and regulations outlined by the state and federal government. A student may qualify for special education services as an individual with special needs in one of thirteen areas identified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004). These are:

  • Autism
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Deafness
  • Hearing impairment,(Hard of Hearing)
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Other health impairment
  • Severe emotional disturbance
  • Specific learning disability
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Visual impairment

How is my child referred to special education?

If you suspect that your child displays any condition which may require some intervention or Special Education programs and services, a referral can be made in the following manner:


For children between the ages of birth to five, please contact the Special Education Office at (510) 337-7075


For students enrolled in Alameda Unified Schools, please contact your elementary school principal or secondary school psychologist or administrator at your child’s school for a referral to the school’s Student Study Team.


For students enrolled at private schools in grades K-12, please contact the Coordinator of Special Education at 510-337-7074.

What is a Student Study Team (SST)?

A Student Study Team (SST) is a school-based, problem-solving group whose purpose is to provide assistance to teachers in the areas of instruction and behavior management. The SST can provide support by contributing both personnel and school resources in response to identified student needs. The SST will meet within 15 days of the parent referral to review parent/teacher concerns.

The SST can include the parent, principal, or other administrator, psychologist, counselor, special education teacher or classroom teacher. Parent concerns and student needs are often successfully addressed through the SST process. If suggested interventions and strategies do not adequately address student needs, the SST and/or parent can request an assessment for Special Education.


How will my child be assessed for special education?

Arrangements will be made to have your child’s strengths and needs evaluated. This will be done through assessment and conferences held among those who work with your child. The participants in this assessment process may include teachers, psychologists, nurses, counselors, therapists, and others. No assessment will be conducted without the written permission of the child's parent or guardian. An Assessment report will be completed and shared an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting held within sixty days of the date the signed assessment plan is received by the district.


What is an assessment plan?

An assessment plan is developed by Special Education staff and the assessment plan will state the areas in which the child will be assessed and the titles of the staff members who will participate in the assessment.


Who decides what services my child needs?

The "Individualized Education Plan" (IEP) team selects the program or combination of programs that allows the student to access a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) with maximum opportunity for interactions with non-disabled peers. That team is also responsible for determining  the "least restrictive environment " (LRE) for the child, including:


  • The child’s placement is as close as possible to the child’s home.
  • Unless the IEP agrees to a placement in a different facility, the child is educated in their neighborhood school.
  • In selecting program and placement, consideration is given to any potential harmful effects on the child.
  • A child with a disability is not removed from education in an age-appropriate regular classroom solely due to the need for modifications to the general curriculum.  The team may consider self-contained special education classes only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in the general education setting with the use of supplementary aids and services, including curriculum modifications and behavioral supports, cannot be achieved satisfactorily. These requirements also apply to separate schooling or other removal of pupils from the general education environment.
  • In providing or arranging for the provision of nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities, the district will ensure the child with the disability participates with non-disabled children in those services and activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of that child.

What is an Individualized Education Plan meeting?

After the assessment has been completed, the parent or guardian will be invited to attend an IEP meeting. The date and time of the meeting is mutually set by all participants. The parent or guardian may also wish to bring along other persons to this meeting. At the IEP meeting, district staff will present the results of their assessment. Parents are encouraged to ask questions and become fully informed as to their child’s strengths and needs.

After the assessment information is presented and discussed, the members of the IEP team will determine the student’s eligibility for Special Education services in accordance with State and Federal guidelines. If the student is found eligible for Special Education, the IEP will include the following:

  • A summary of the assessment findings including the students current levels of performance
  • A statement of student goals and objectives that will be addressed over the next six to twelve months. Goals and objectives are written so that student progress can be objectively measured. The team will suggest methods of meeting these goals and objectives and will make maximum use of the child's strengths and abilities. A description of evaluation criteria will also be included to determine how well the plan is working.
  • Specific services will be identified which are determined to be appropriate in meeting the child’s goals and objectives.
  • A recommendation for placement, starting date and anticipated frequency and duration of Special Education services will also be provided.

What are my parent rights?

Parents are notified of their rights at various stages throughout the IEP process and at least annually. Parent rights include the right to request an IEP meeting; the right to review assessment information; the right to have their eligible child receive free and appropriate educational services in the least restrictive environment. Remember, if you have any questions, school district personnel are here to assist you.

Your consent is also required before the IEP can be put into effect. If you are uncertain at the end of the meeting as to whether you want the plan to go into effect, you may wish to ask for further clarification. Any questions about your rights can be answered by the school personnel.


What is Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI)? 

SAI is a methodology that tailors teaching strategies and methods to meet the unique needs of students with learning disabilities and other types of learning disorders. Under 34 C.F.R. Section 300.39 , Specialized Academic Instruction means adapting, as appropriate, to the needs of an eligible child. Examples of SAI include:

  • Modification, accommodations, and/or adaptations to curriculum/lessons
  • Modifications, accommodations, and/or adaptations of instructional materials
  • Collaboration and consultation with teachers, specialists, and parents
  • Physical assistance
  • Behavior plans
  • Use of manipulatives and/or other kinesthetic resources during content lessons
  • Use of visual, written, or picture prompts/aids during direct instruction
    • Books on tape, enlarged print, auditory equipment, footrests, adaptive technology, etc.
  • Computer-assisted instruction

What are "related services"?  

A related service is intended to assist the student to benefit from special education. Under Section 300.34 of IDEA, related services include transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education, and includes speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpretation 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. Related services also include school health services and school nurse services, social work services in schools, and parent counseling and training.  Examples of Related Services include, but are not limited to:

  • Speech-language therapy
  • Counseling
  • Adaptive Physical Education
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Assistive Technology services
  • Vision Services
  • Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services