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Making sense of all the acronyms in special ed

special education lawyer attorney Orange County Los Angeles counties

Navigating your way through your child’s school district’s special education program can be confusing. The rampant use of acronyms in special education is partially to blame. If you’ve attended an IEP meeting (see definition below) then you’ve no doubt heard such terms as IEP, LRE and FAPE being thrown around by school district staff. To make it less confusing, below is a list of some of the most commonly used acronyms used by school staff regarding special education, and the qualification for same.

ABA This term stands for “applied behavior analysis”. It is a behavioral modification system or treatment commonly used with persons with autism. ABA seeks to increase useful behaviors and reduce harmful or undesirable behaviors. ABA utilizes principles like positive reinforcement, as well as providing no reinforcement for behaviors that can cause harm or impede learning.

APE APE stands for “adapted physical education”. It is a P.E. program using accommodations to meet the needs of handicapped or other children with special needs. It is a P.E. program for a child who cannot safely participate in general education P.E.

AT AT stands for assistive technology. Assistive technology refers to a wide range of devices or equipment that is used to assist a child with a disability. It can refer to anything from a special pencil that encourages a child to grip it properly, to a stool that goes under a child’s desk to reduce fidgeting, or a device which enable a deaf child to talk using a language device.

BIP BIP means “behavioral intervention plan”. A BIP is a written plan that is designed to improve a student’s behavior. Typically District staff observes Student, notes what things are causing Student to have behavior issues, then devises a plan to improve the situation through a wide variety of methods.

ESY This term stands for “extended school year”. It is essentially special education summer school, and is generally only provided when the school district feels Student is not able to retain information learned during the school year over the long summer.

FAPE This acronym stands for “free and appropriate public education”. This is an important buzzword in special education since it is the minimum legal standard of what a school district must provide to a student qualified for special education. You will also here it referenced as the District’s “offer of FAPE”. In that context it refers to the District’s offer including what class, and what services District proposes offering to a student. Unlike all the other acronyms listed here, when using this term, don’t just say the letters, sound it out like a word.

IDEA The IDEA (The Individuals with Disabilities Act) is a federal civil rights law enacted in 1990 which was enacted to protect the rights of students with disabilities and to give their parents a voice in their education. It mandates that all public schools serve the educational needs of students with disabilities. It sets forth an entire system of providing that education, from the identification of students suspected of having disabilities, to the qualification of students for services. The IDEA also mandates when and how often students can/must be assessed, and that IEP meetings must be held. When determining what duties a school owes your child in California,one looks at the IDEA, the California Education Code as well as at the relevant regulations and case law (court decisions).

IEE Refers to an “independent educational evaluation”. An IEE is an assessment or evaluation of a child that is done by a person who does not work for your child’s school district. Parents may request an IEE if the school district has done an evaluation of their child, and the parent feels the evaluation is not accurate, complete or is in some other way deficient. The law provides that if a parent requests an IEE, the school district must either 1) provide the IEE at no cost to parent or 2) file a Request for Due Process against the parent with OAH (see below) requesting that OAH rule on whether the assessment parent objected to was appropriate or not. If your request for an IEE was denied, and a school district has filed for due process against you, you may stop the request for due process by writing the school and stating that you are withdrawing your request for the IEE.

IEP IEP means “individualized education program”. The IDEA (see above) mandates that school districts create an annual IEP for every child who qualifies to receive special education services. An IEP is a document created by all the persons who attend the IEP meeting. The IEP usually includes your child’s qualifying condition, a statement of how your child is doing in school (“present levels of performance”), special education supports and services that the district will provide, modifications and accommodations that the district will provide, specific educational goals, how your child’s progress toward goals will be measured, a transition plan if applicable, and an offer of FAPE. An offer of FAPE is the place in the IEP where the District spells out what it is offering to provide your child, in terms of what type of class, what services, what accommodations, etc. If you agree to the offer of FAPE and sign it, the school district is bound to comply with it until a new one is agreed upon.

LEA An LEA is a local education agency. This term is used throughout the IDEA, as the IDEA is binding on all LEAs. It includes not just school districts, but any other agency which operates local public primary and secondary schools such as a public board of education.

LRE LRE stands for “least restrictive environment”. This is often used in conjunction with the term “FAPE” (see above), i.e., “District asserted that the offer contained in its January 5th IEP constituted FAPE in the LRE”. Under the IDEA (see above), school districts are required to provide students with a FAPE in the least restrictive environment. That means that students with disabilities should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate, even where the school district has to supply supplementary aids and services to enable a student to be in general education. This is often a bone of contention with school districts, who argue that their special classes just for handicapped students (i.e., mild-moderate or moderate-severe special day classes) represent the LRE for such students.

OAH This acronym stands for “Office of Administrative Hearings”. OAH is the administrative court that hears Requests for Due Process in California. If you want to bring a complaint against your school district for not complying with the IDEA (see above), this is who you file your complaint with. You can learn more about them by visiting their website at:

OT OT stands for “occupational therapy”. Occupational therapy in the special educational setting refers to therapies designed to promote functional skills in students, particularly those skills needed during their school day. OT could consist of a student working with a therapist to enable student to hold a pencil with a proper grip, to open a milk container, or improve toileting skills. For more information, see the American Occupational Therapy Association (

RSP Acronym stands for “resource specialist program”. RSP refers to small group instruction often offered to children who have qualified for special education. If your child is found to have a learning disability in math for example, your child’s IEP might include 30 minutes three times a week of RSP in math. That means, three times a week your child will leave the general education classroom for 30 minutes to go work in a small group with similarly situated students, with an RSP teacher. RSP programs should be designed to support children with learning disabilities and to give them strategies to succeed in the classroom. The specifics of the RSP should be set forth in your child’s IEP.

RTI Stands for “response to intervention”. RTI is like RSP but it is for students that have not been qualified for special education. RTI is supposed to be short in duration, and if successful, resolves issues a child may be having with learning or behavior. It is extra help and support to help a child resolve an issue. Frequently it is provided to students who really should be getting assessed to see if they qualify for special education. The quality of the teaching is often not as good as is provided once a child is qualified for special education. But for a parent who is reluctant to have their child assessed for special education eligibility, it is a way to see if your child’s needs can be met outside of special education.

SLP SLP stands for “speech language pathologist”. They are also known as speech therapists. They assess, diagnose and treat disorders related to speech, language, voice, and fluency. If your child is suspected of having related issues, you may request a speech and language assessment, which will be conducted by an SLP. If your child is found to have speech or language issues, your child may be provided speech and language therapy by an SLP.

SST This term is usually said to stand for either “student study team” or in other districts “student success team”. The terms is usually made in reference to an “SST meeting” which is a meeting of school staff and parents of a student to discuss difficulties a student may be having. If a young child is having issues with behavior in kindergarten for example, and the teacher isn’t able to resolve it on their own, an SST meeting can be held to talk about the issue and how the team can work together to resolve it.

An SST is not part of special education. It can be a school district’s attempt to avoid qualifying your child for special education, and often is form over substance. In other words, it can make a parent feel like something is being done, when in fact very little is being done. However, depending on how good the school district is, it can be a good avenue for a parent who is seeking to avoid having their child qualified for special education. If the SST is not effective at addressing the issue fairly quickly, it’s usually best to request a formal assessment of your child by the school.

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