What is a school district supposed to provide to children with special needs in California? Many people are not even aware that school districts have a duty to educate handicapped children. They do - school districts are even required to identify and provide services to handicapped children in private schools. Public schools are required by law to seek out kids with special needs and provide them with customized educational services.
For children that qualify a school district may have to provide instruction by a specially trained special education teacher, a one on one aide, special equipment, and therapies during school hours such as speech, counseling, or occupational therapy. In some cases a school district may be required to provide assessments by medical doctors, transportation from the child’s home to school, or even the services of a nurse at the school site.
School districts are required to look for (called "child find") and identify children who they suspect to have special needs. This could be anything from a child with autism, to a child with a learning disability in math, or to a child who has a physical handicap, such as a child with spina bifida, or cerebral palsy. Once identified, school districts have a duty to conduct their own tests to determine if the child qualifies for special education. For children that are typical cognitively and just have physical issues, school districts may have to provide accommodations and support pursuant to what is known as a “504 plan”. [A 504 plan addresses physical barriers to a child’s education, such as providing elevator access to a wheelchair bound student, or providing an aide to a child who needs help going to the bathroom via catheter.]
After the testing or assessments are done, the school district has to have either an IEP or Section 504 meeting with the child’s parents. At that meeting, the school district is to advise parents if the child qualifies. If the child qualifies, the school district then has to begin providing that child with the education and services mandated under law and to offer it to the parents in a written document called an IEP or a 504 plan. The education and services mandated under law is known as a FAPE (see blog re: special education acronyms for definition).