About special education

  • What is special education?

    What are "related services" for special needs students?
  • What services are available?

    Services available to students in PS 32's NEST program
  • Questions to ask

    What to look for when touring schools

About special education

What is special education?

If your child is having trouble in school, he may need help from a teacher with special training. This extra help is called special education. It’s free, and your child has a right to it under federal law.

The public school system has a range of specialists who can work with your child, whether his problems stem from physical disabilities, learning difficulties or emotional issues.

Some problems can be solved with the help of your child’s regular classroom teacher. For example, if your child is easily distracted, the teacher may ask him to sit close to her. Individual help before or after school may be all he needs.

But if these strategies don’t work, other help is available. Your child may be placed in a smaller class for part of the day for more focused attention or in a class with two teachers, one of whom has a degree in special education.

Your child may be eligible for what are called "related services." These include counseling, speech therapy, and physical and occupational therapy.

Except in extraordinary circumstances, teachers and staff are supposed to get your child the help he needs in his regular school per the Department of Education's Special Education Reform. They are not supposed to tell you that you have to find another school or that your child must make do with less services than he requires. If the school cannot provide the help your child needs, he may be eligible to attend a private school at the city’s expense.


An IEP describes the services your child needs to succeed. An IEP describes the services your child needs to succeed.

If you think your child may have a disability, ask your school, in writing, for an evaluation by a psychologist. A psychologist will administer a series of tests to determine what kind of extra help your child may need and whether further evaluations by a specialist such as an occupational or physical therapist, may be warranted.

You may prefer to have a private evaluation. Ask your child’s doctor for a referral. This is expensive, but will probably be more complete than the evaluation done by the Department of Education. You may also ask for a private evaluation at the city’s expense if you find the DOE evaluation is inadequate.

Once the evaluation is complete, the school staff will recommend an IEP (individual education plan). You must approve this plan. The IEP is a legal document that describes the services to which your child is entitled.

If your child’s behavior interferes with his education or that of other students, the school may request a functional behavior assessment.The school must develop strategies to address the child's behavior.

504 accommodations

Sometimes children with disabilities need inexpensive, common-sense changes in classroom routines to help them succeed in school. For example, a child with a learning disability may need extra time on tests. A child who is visually impaired may need books with large print.

These simple changes are called 504 accommodations, named after Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which bans discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability in federally funded programs.

Every school should have a person designated as the 504 coordinator. Requests for accommodations must be submitted in writing to the coordinator. The 504 coordinator then schedules a meeting with a child’s parents and teachers within 30 days. A 504 plan is not an IEP. However, like an IEP, it is a legal document that the school must follow.

What services are available?

A wide range of services is available, including psychological counseling, occupational therapy (help with sensory integration or fine motor skills, such as holding a pencil), physical therapy (help with gross motor skills, such as walking), and speech and language therapy.

  • Your child may need help from a special education teacher in his regular class, or he may get extra help outside his regular class a few hours a week. This help is called resource room or SETSS (special education teacher support services).
  • Your child may be assigned to a class that has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. This is called ICT (integrated co-teaching), formerly CTT (collaborative team-teaching). In such classes, students with special needs make up no more than 40 percent of the class and learn alongside their general education peers.
  • A child with Asperger's (a high-functioning form of autism) may be eligible for a NEST program. Like other team-teaching classes, NEST classes have two teachers and a mix of general education and special education pupils.
  • A child with severe disabilities may be assigned a small, separate class with other disabled children. This is called a self-contained class.
  • In rare circumstances, a child with severe disabilities may be assigned to a special school, called a District 75 school. The district family advocate at District 75, (400 First Avenue, NY, NY 10010) may be able to provide guidance. Call (212) 802-1614. See also A Shared Path to Success: Family Guide to Special Education Services for School-Age Children.

Questions to ask

All schools are supposed to offer special education services, but the reality is some schools are much more accommodating than others. If your child has special needs, you want to make sure he goes to a school that will help him succeed. Questions to ask:

  • Does your school have ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes (classes with two teachers)?
  • What kind of individual help can the teachers give my child?
  • How many special education teachers does the school have?
  • Do most of the school's special education students graduate with a Regents diploma?

If you have difficulties

Many parents have enormous difficulty getting the help their child needs. If you have trouble getting services, or you disagree with the Department of Education’s recommendation for your child, you may request mediation. Mediation is a meeting with a representative from the Department of Education and an independent mediator, such as New York Peace Institute (formerly Safe Horizons). Information about their special education mediation services can be found here

Send requests for mediation to your child's school and to NY Peace Institute's Mediation Center: 

New York Peace Institute Brooklyn Mediation Center

210 Joralemon Street, Suite 618 Brooklyn, NY 11201

Telephone: 718.834.6671, Fax: 718.834.6681 

[email protected]

If mediation doesn’t work, you may request an impartial hearing by writing to the Office of Impartial Hearings, 131 Livingston Street, Room 201, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Requests should include your child’s name and address, the name of her school, the nature of the problem and a proposed resolution. Hearing decisions may be appealed to the state.

Your child has a right to stay put in his current school while you are challenging the DOE. Both the parents and the school must agree to change a child's placement.