A school's mission is to educate students and promote them based on the success of becoming knowledgeable in grade appropriate materials. The overall objective of school is to teach and for children to learn. In the case with children who have an individual education plan (IEP), the goal is to place the child in the least restrictive environment that will help them succeed in the educational setting.
For the most part, most schools do succeed in their mission, but unfortunately there are times where a school fails to provide an appropriate education for a special needs child. It may be the school does not offer the right necessities for special needs children to succeed in the school setting and does not explore alternatives. However, even though it should not occur, sometimes it does.
This thought of failure causes pause for concern to consider that some schools may be unsuccessful at this important mission of providing an education for all students. You may also be wondering how a school can fall short of providing an appropriate education for special needs students. Here 5 ways schools may do a disservice to special needs children:
1. Lack of Understanding
A distinct lack of understanding a student's disability is a one way a school might fail a special needs child. This is largely due to the fact that when a disability is not known or understood, the child is wrongly classified and does not receive the right support services.
A lack of knowledge in the student's special needs also can lead to assumptions made by school staff. Often special needs children have issues which are not learning disabilities, but the disability impacts learning. The problems are not always visible and can emerge in different ways, giving the impression a child doesn't "look" like he or she has a disability.
For instance, a child with traumatic brain injury (TBI) may act impulsively or say inappropriate things in class and he or she may get reprimanded and even punished for his or her behavior. This does not help resolve the situation because if the teacher or other staff member understood TBI, he or she would realize that behavioral and impulsiveness are due to the nature of the injury and cannot be controlled. Negative reactions won't stop the problem, but using proactive positive approaches, such as reminders and cues, will likely have a better outcome.
Situations such as this are common when a teacher isn't knowledgeable about a specific special education classification. If school psychologists and other special education personnel don't take the time to bring the teacher (and anyone else working with the student) up to speed if he or she is not familiar with a particular disability, this leads to a serious disservice to the student, teacher and all other students in the classroom.
2. Wrong Placement
Unfortunately, some schools are not well versed in the different special education classifications and group children with disabilities together in the same classification or in the wrong classification even though their needs may widely vary. In the United States, federal specifications outline there are 14 classifications for special education. ,  When a student is placed in the wrong classification, this can have significant negative impact upon the quality and appropriateness of education received.
According to stipulations, children who need special education services should be mainstreamed, also known as inclusion, into the regular classroom when possible. When the wrong placement occurs, this can hurt the child's ability to learn and have an overall impact on education received.
A huge disservice can occur if a school declassifies a child from his or her special education designation. If a student is doing well during the annual review meeting for the next year's IEP, the administrators may attempt to declassify the student and suggest special education services are no longer needed.
While there are some learning disabilities a child may grow out of, there are other disabilities that are permanent and needs may change as the child grows and reaches higher level thinking. The IEP is there to make sure the student receives the appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, meaning inclusion as much as possible with students not receiving special education services.
Parents are sometimes pressured to give up services for the child, and this idea is promoted under the basis that their child is doing well (I speak from experience on this one). It is to the special needs child's advantage that an IEP is kept in most cases, especially if the disability is not one associated with development and the child won't "grow out" of. Of course, this depends on the classification and type of disability, injury or other issue that impacts learning.
4. Assumptions About Disabilities
When school staff or administrators make assumptions about special needs without really understanding why a child has special requirements or worse, chalk up behavior to "that's normal for all kids", this can lead to problems.
There is a good reason there are multiple classifications for special education and why students are appropriately matched to the program that best fits their needs. All disabilities are not the same and staff members (not necessarily the teacher, but any staff member who comes into contact with the child) who do not embrace the differences contribute to potential failure.
5. Not Following the IEP
Occasionally, schools fail to follow all the designations listed in the IEP. While it is true some specifications are occasionally placed in there as a safety net (such as special modifications for testing), it is important to have ongoing assessment and good judgment when providing education.
If designated services fall through the cracks or a school has difficulty obtaining services or following IEP provisions and over the course of time the stipulation falls off the radar, this can contribute to failure over the long run.
Most schools do vigorously make strong attempts to provide all children with a sound and appropriate education, but unfortunately there are sometimes failures. It is important for a parent to be involved and stay vigilant when it comes to their child's IEP. Parents should familiarize themselves with special education laws, attend all annual review meetings and get to know teachers and staff working with their child.
Schools and parents are partners in a child's education. If the school drops the ball, the parent should be right behind them to scoop it up and get things back on track. A successful education for a special needs child occurs with effort of both schools and parents, one cannot succeed without the team effort of the other.