In the St. Marys Area School District, every effort is made to meet pupils' needs without placement into special education. At the elementary and middle school levels, students are first taken through the Instructional Support Team (IST) process. With this process, the IST support teacher collects data and determines the student’s instructional level. If necessary, the support teacher then recommends adjustments to be made in order to accommodate the student’s instructional level within the regular classroom. Should the IST team feel further assessment is in order, referral for a multi-disciplinary evaluation (MDE) is made.
While IST is not available at the secondary level, accommodations and adjustments must also be implemented prior to referral for a MDE.
According to state and federal special education regulations, annual public notice to parents of children who reside within a school district is required regarding child find responsibilities. St. Marys Area School District is required to conduct child find activities for children who may be eligible for services via Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For additional information related to Section 504/Chapter 15 services, the parent may refer to Section 504, Chapter 15, and the Basic Education Circular entitled Implementation of Chapter 15. Also, school districts are required to conduct child find activities for children who may be eligible for gifted services via 22 PA Code Chapter 16. For additional information regarding gifted services, the parent may refer to 22 PA Code Chapter 16. If a student is both gifted and eligible for Special Education, the procedures in IDEA and Chapter 14 shall take precedence.
MULTI-DISCIPLINARY EVALUATION (MDE)
The MDE is a more formalized process of pupil assessment where designated tests, observations and other sources of data are conducted and analyzed by a team. Parental permission is obtained before the MDE is conducted. In addition, parents are viewed as being integral members of the multi-disciplinary team (MDT), and are asked to provide input for the evaluation. A certified school psychologist oversees the MDE. Upon completion of the MDE, a comprehensive Evaluation Report (ER), is completed for the student. Recommendations regarding the student’s specific strengths and needs are indicated in the ER.
INDIVIDUALIZED EDUCATION PROGRAM (IEP)
Should the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) determine that the student is exceptional and in need of specially designed instruction, parents will be asked to participate in the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for their child in conjunction with an IEP team.
The IEP is an outline of the special education and related services that the student must be given in order to be successful in school. As with the MDE, parents are considered to be a vital part of the IEP team. IEPs are typically designed to last for a year in duration. However, parents may request an IEP conference at any time should they feel that adjustments need to be made to their child’s program.
Once the IEP is developed, parents will be asked to give their permission to implement the IEP through the Notice of Recommended Assignment (NOREP).
The importance of parents as partners in the educational process in the SMASD cannot be overstated. Without question, parents are the most critical members of the team and need to be involved in all aspects of evaluation, program development and placement of their child.
CONFIDENTIALITY OF STUDENT RECORDS / INFORMATION
The St. Marys Area School District is required by law to keep records of all special education students. Included is information such as birth date, address, telephone number, achievement test results, psychological test results, teacher progress reports and routine medical records.
As students are re-evaluated annually, information is added to their file. According to SMASD Board Policy, parents can review their child’s file and challenge the validity of any record or report.
In addition to the parents, only school personnel who have a legitimate interest in the child are permitted to review these files. Any other persons must have the written approval of the parent before they are allowed to see the file or receive copies of information in the file.
All records are reviewed each summer by a school psychologist or administrator. Information no longer needed to plan for a student’s education program is removed and destroyed. However, parents are notified first and are permitted to review and copy this information.
In all aspects of evaluation, program development and placement, parents will be advised of their rights and will be afforded what is known as due process. Should disagreements occur in any of these areas, parents will also be informed of the methods of recourse available to settle the dispute (i.e., prehearing conference, mediation, due process hearing, etc.). Please keep in mind that the vast number of disagreements between school and parents can be resolved informally (and positively!)
Gifted Services/Chapter 16
St. Marys Area School District promotes enrichment or acceleration for learners identified as gifted. Students who demonstrate the need for a Gifted Individualized Education Plan (GIEP) may participate in the gifted activities. In Pennsylvania, the provision of services to identify gifted students is governed by Chapter 16 of the school code: Gifted Education.
Chapter 15/Section 504 / Protected Handicapped Students
The law allows for services to be provided to protected handicapped students in addition to services for special education students as defined by Chapter 14 and services designed for identified gifted students as defined by Chapter 16. Protected handicapped students, as a group, are covered by Chapter 15 of the school code. Chapter 15 is sometimes called section 504 which is the federal name for this program. The goal of Chapter 15/504 is to provide protected handicapped students, without discrimination, related services and accommodations that are needed to allow for equal opportunity to participate in the school program. Students must meet the requirements which include being school age with a physical or mental handicap that substantially limits or prohibits participation in or access to an aspect of the school program.