Education Law

What Support Services Do Schools Have to Provide for Special Ed Students?

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
Federal law requires public school districts to pay for a wide range of support services that are needed to help students with disabilities function and learn at school.

If you have a child with disabilities who qualifies for special education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the public school district must provide you with “related services” that are needed to help your child:

  • reach the goals spelled out in the individualized education program (IEP)
  • make progress in general educational course work
  • participate in extracurricular and other school activities, and
  • attend regular classes with nondisabled children (known as “mainstreaming”).

As part of the "free appropriate public education" guaranteed under the law, school districts may not charge for these services, as along as the student needs them to benefit from special ed. Related services include:

  • transportation to, from, and around school
  • services to help children with mobility and orientation, including teaching them to use service animals and other aids
  • speech-language pathology services
  • audiology services, including training in lip-reading and help with selecting and fitting hearing aids
  • interpreting services for students who are hard of hearing or deaf
  • one-on-one instructional aides
  • physical and occupational therapy
  • counseling
  • psychological services such as administering and interpreting psychological assessments, assistance with behavioral intervention strategies, and counseling for parents
  • rehabilitation counseling focused on preparation for employment and attaining independence
  • social work services, including working with the parents on problems in the child’s living situation that affect adjustment at school
  • school health and nurse services designed to help children receive their education, and
  • medical services for the purposes of diagnosis and evaluation.

Support services aren’t limited to the ones listed in the law and regulations. If your child needs other assistance in order to benefit from special education, the IEP team has the authority to include that in the plan. (20 U.S.C. § 1401(26); 34 C.F.R. § 300.34.)

Technology to Help Children With Disabilities Function

In order to help special ed students keep or improve their functional abilities, the IDEA also requires the schools to provide “assistive technology devices,” along with services to help select, acquire, and use those devices. These devices might include off-the-shelf or customized computers, software, communication systems, or pulmonary devices. The law specifically doesn’t require schools to provide, maintain, or replace medical devices that are surgically implanted (such as cochlear implants). But the school may be responsible for monitoring other medical devices that are needed to keep the child alive and safe at school or while being transported to or from school. (20 USC § 1401(1), (2); 34 CFR §§ 300.5, 300.6, 300.105.)

Transition Services for Older Special Ed Youth

The IDEA also requires schools to provide transition services (including special classes) to help special ed children make the move from high school to adult life (whether they get a job, go to college, or enroll in a training program) and develop the skills to live independently as adults. (20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII); 34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b).)

Questions for Your Lawyer

  • What if the IEP team agrees that my child needs speech therapy five times a week, but the school district claims it can’t afford the service?
  • If the school district places my autistic son in a residential facility that’s not within normal commuting distance from my home, can I get the district to pay for my transportation and lodging costs to visit him?
  • My daughter needs to have a psychiatrist manage and monitor her medication regime. Does the school have to provide that service?
  • Does the school have to provide “mapping” services by an audiologist to calibrate my child’s cochlear implant?
Go to the main FAQ page on special education and the IDEA.
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