The Office of Special Education is actively looking for parents and caretakers to join the Worcester Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC). If you are interested in joining or learning more about SEPAC, please contact the Office of Special Education at 508-799-3042 and 508-799-3093.
Manager of Special Education & Intervention Services
Kay C. Seale
20 Irving Street
Worcester, MA 01609
The mission of the Special Education Department is to provide support, technical assistance and service to schools, staff, students, families and community stakeholders as we work collaboratively to promote safe schools where ALL children learn. Through our efforts we are committed to partnering with parents and schools to ensure the fidelity of specialized instruction, inclusion opportunities, professional learning and rigorous outcomes for students with disabilities.
We are committed to our focus on learning through a TEAM process of collaboration with our parents, community and staff! Our core beliefs are that Together Everyone Achieves More! It is through these key priorities that we continuously strive to develop specialized services to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities.
Key questions that parents and families may ask:
What is child find?
It is the responsibility of the Worcester Public Schools to identify any child who is a resident of Worcester, who may have a disability, regardless of the severity of the disability. It is also the responsibility of the Worcester Public Schools to evaluate students who may have a disability to determine if they are eligible for special education or related services under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) or 306 CMR 28 (Massachusetts Special Education Regulations).
The Worcester Public Schools is committed to identifying children before their third birthday in order to provide early intervention services for three and four year olds. If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s development and would like to have him/her screened, please contact the Special Education office for an appointment at (508) 799-8165 or (508)799-3093.
If you have any other specific questions about your child you can also contact the Principal at your child’s school for information about the Student Support Process (SSP) which is the first step in the referral process to determine eligibility. It is through this school-based process, strategies are developed, academic and/or behavioral interventions and data is collected to support your child in order to determine if a referral for a special education evaluation is needed.
What is special education?
- Specialized, individualized instruction to meet unique needs of students eligible for services due to an educational and/or social emotional disability which impacts access to the curriculum
- Related services (Speech, OT, PT, vision, assistive technology, orientation/mobility) necessary to access curriculum and make effective educational progress
What is Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
All children with disabilities are entitled to:
- A “free, appropriate, public education” [FAPE]
- In the “least restrictive environment” [LRE]
- Comprehensive Evaluation through the IEP Team process
- Parent and student participation Age (14 and above) in decision making during the IEP team meeting
- Individualized Education Plan [IEP] that is developed that identifies and provides Specialized Instruction
What are key questions that IEP Teams must ask to determine eligibility?
- Question 1: Is there one or more disability (ies)?
- Question 2: Is there a lack of effective progress in the curriculum?
- Question 3: Is the lack of progress due to the disability?
- Question 4: Does the student require specialized instruction in order to access the curriculum?
THE ANSWER TO ALL FOUR QUESTIONS MUST BE YES FOR A STUDENT TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES!
Is special education services forever?
Special education is designed to allow students with disabilities to access services PreK through 12th grade. State and Federal regulations only applies for students from ages (3-22) who have not earned a high school diploma, and have been found eligible through the evaluation process.
As a result of the IEP Team process and the initial finding of eligibility, special education services will eventually end in one of four ways:
- Upon re-evaluation, team determines services are no longer needed (for students with milder disabilities, this is an ideal goal and outcome prior to graduation)
- Student graduates, earning a regular high school diploma (GED or certificate of completion does not end eligibility)
- Student reaches their 22nd birthday (ages out)
- Parent (or adult student) declines services (writes a written statement to end services )
A Child between the ages of 3 and 21 is eligible for special education program if the all of the following criteria are met:
- Must have a qualifying educational disability - a medical diagnosis is considered but student must also meet the DESE guidelines for eligibility
- Must not be making effective progress - grades alone do not indicate lack of progress or effective progress - staff should look at all information including MCAS, MAP scores, standardized testing and any other assessments to determine progress and / or lack of progress
- Must show that the lack of progress is due to the disability - students may be failing due to poor attendance, poor work habits, lack of homework, frequent changes in schools, etc...
- Must need specially designed instruction not just accommodations
- Eligibility is a TEAM DECISION! Decisions are based on a review of all information gathered including information from the parent, teacher and support staff. We need to respect the decisions of our TEAM.
Massachusetts Disability Categories:
- Developmental Delay
- Intellectual Impairment
- Sensory Impairment
- Neurological Impairment
- Emotional Impairment
- Communication Impairment
- Physical Impairment
- Health Impairment
- Specific Learning Disability
For educational purposes, a disabling condition is characterized by significant delays, impairments, or limitations in the student’s capacity. To make this determination, the Team should consider all of the following as indicative of limited, impaired, or delayed capacity:
- a pattern of difficulty that persists beyond age expectations;
- a pattern of difficulty across settings;
- a pattern of difficulty that is not solely the result of cultural, linguistic, or socioeconomic differences; and
- a pattern of difficulty that persists despite instructional support activities.
SPECIAL EDUCATION DISABILITY DEFINITIONS:
Massachusetts Special Education Regulations provide these Disability Definitions at 603 C.M.R. 28.02(7).
Autism - A developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. Autism means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age (3) that adversely affects a child's educational performance. Other characteristics often associated with autism are engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or change in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The term does not apply if a child's educational performance is adversely affected primarily because the child has an emotional disturbance.
Developmental Delay - The learning capacity of a young child (3-9 years old) is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: receptive and/or expressive language; cognitive abilities; physical functioning; social, emotional, or adaptive functioning; and/or self-help skills.
Intellectual Impairment - The permanent capacity for performing cognitive tasks, functions, or problem solving is significantly limited or impaired and is exhibited by more than one of the following: a slower rate of learning; disorganized patterns of learning; difficulty with adaptive behavior; and/or difficulty understanding abstract concepts.
Sensory Impairment - Hearing - The capacity to hear, with amplification, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in hearing acuity tasks; difficulty with oral communication; and/or difficulty in understanding auditorally presented information in the education environment.
The term includes students who are deaf and students who are hard-of -hearing.
Sensory Impairment - Vision - The capacity to see, after correction, is limited, impaired, or absent and results in one or more of the following: reduced performance in visual acuity tasks; difficulty with written communication; and/or difficulty with understanding information presented visually in the education environment. The term includes students who are blind and students with limited vision.
Sensory Impairment - Deaf-Blind - Concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs.
Neurological Impairment - The capacity of the nervous system is limited or impaired with difficulties exhibited in one or more of the following areas: the use of memory, the control and use of cognitive functioning, sensory and motor skills, speech, language, organizational skills, information processing, affect, social skills, or basic life functions. The term includes students who have received a traumatic brain injury.
Emotional Impairment - As defined under federal law at 34 CFR §300.8, the student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree that adversely affects educational performance: an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. The determination of disability shall not be made solely because the student's behavior violates the school's discipline code, because the student is involved with a state court or social service agency, or because the student is socially maladjusted, unless the Team determines that the student has a serious emotional disturbance.
Communication Impairment - The capacity to use expressive and/or receptive language is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: speech, such as articulation and/or voice; conveying, understanding, or using spoken, written, or symbolic language. The term may include a student with impaired articulation, stuttering, language impairment, or voice impairment if such impairment adversely affects the student's educational performance.
Physical Impairment - The physical capacity to move, coordinate actions, or perform physical activities is significantly limited, impaired, or delayed and is exhibited by difficulties in one or more of the following areas: physical and motor tasks; independent movement; performing basic life functions. The term shall include severe orthopedic impairments or impairments caused by congenital anomaly, cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures if such impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.
Health Impairment - A chronic or acute health problem such that the physiological capacity to function is significantly limited or impaired and results in one or more of the following: limited strength, vitality or alertness including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli resulting in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment. The term shall include health impairments due to asthma, attention deficit disorder or attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, a heart condition, hemophilia, lead poisoning, leukemia, nephritis, rheumatic fever, and sickle anemia, if such health impairment adversely affects a student's educational performance.
Specific Learning Disability - The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations.
Specific Learning Disability is defined as follows:
- The term means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
- ii. Disorders not included. The term does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
A TEAM may determine that a child has a specific learning disability if-
- The child does not achieve commensurate with his or her age and ability levels in one or more of the areas listed in this section, if provided with learning experiences appropriate for the child's age and ability levels; and
- The team finds that a child has a severe discrepancy between achievement and intellectual ability in one or more of the following areas:
- Oral expression.
- Listening comprehension.
- Written expression.
- Basic reading skill.
- Reading comprehension.
- Mathematics calculation.
- Mathematics reasoning.
The team may not identify a child as having a specific learning disability if the severe discrepancy between ability and achievement is primarily the result of-
- A visual, hearing, or motor impairment;
- Mental retardation;
- Emotional disturbance; or
- Environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage