What Is Special Education?

Contact Information

Special education is specially designed instruction that addresses the unique needs of a student eligible to receive special education services. Special education is provided at no cost to parents and includes the related services a student needs to access her/his educational program.

Early Stages (ages 0-2): Early intervention services are available to children who have disabilities and/or developmental delays. The Early Support for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT) program provides services to eligible children and families in a variety of settings - in their homes, in child care, in preschool or school programs, and in their communities.

School Age (ages 3-21): Students with disabilities who are determined eligible for special education and related services are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Services are provided to eligible students according to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in preschools, elementary, and secondary schools, or other appropriate settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What laws govern special education?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 is the federal law that guarantees FAPE is provided to eligible students with disabilities. The Washington state regulations on special education can be found in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Chapter 392-172A.

What is the difference between Section 504 and Special Education?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal civil rights law which prohibits discrimination against students based on disability. Section 504 ensures that students with disabilities have equal access to educational programs, services, and activities. Special education is governed by the IDEA. Accommodations and/or related aids and services provided under Section 504 are included in a Section 504 Plan. Special Education is different from Section 504 because special education requires school districts to provide eligible students with specially designed instruction in accordance with an IEP.Students eligible for special education, however, are still protected from discrimination under Section 504 and have appropriate accommodations and/or related aides and services included as part of their IEP.

Learn more about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

What rights do parents and students have under the law?

Parents and students have numerous rights under special education law. These rights are outlined in a document called Notice of Special Education Procedural Safeguards. School districts are required to give a copy of this document to the students and their families who are receiving special education services.

Learn more about the Procedural Safeguards

How can OSPI assist with special education issues?

The OSPI Special Education Parent Liaison provides support to parents, guardians, educators and students with disabilities. The Parent Liaison is a neutral party who advocates for a fair process. The Parent Liaison is often called upon when parents want to understand more about the special education process and are seeking assistance in resolving disagreements with school districts about special education services.

Contact the OSPI Special Education Parent Liaison

Additional Resources

TAP #1: The Individuals with Disabilities Act: A Review of the Basics