I hope that you are taking advantage of free access to information on education issues by subscribing to news lists. Today I want to impress on you the importance of becoming knowledgeable of the law. The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the basis of all our special education laws. Federal regulations explain how that law should be kept. The states and some districts add their own interpretation and/or additional regulations. Some districts are good at keeping their teachers informed of changes; however, not all districts do this. It is always a good idea to do your own research and read about how the law is being interpreted in the courts.
There are many ways that you can keep current. CEC is very adept at keeping members informed of new laws and regulations even as they work at the national level to help shape them. Parents and administrators will respect you for your knowledge of the law. And the law really takes some responsibility off of you: You don’t have to make some decisions, simply because the law has made the decision for you already. Our profession is a legal mandate without much room for compromise. So it is very important for you to know what it requires and to provide those services for your students.
Of course, I am sure that you are documenting everything that you do. Make sure that you leave a paper trail indicating where you are meeting law and regulation requirements. However, make sure that your paper trail is professional and factual — not consisting of biased anecdotes. Anything on paper, even a note to yourself, becomes part of the record, so just use good judgment in your documentation.
One of the most important laws is that of confidentiality, which applies to all students — not just those in special education. The Family Education Rights Privacy Act (FERPA) details the types of information that you, as a teacher, can share with others. Be very careful and only discuss your students or your situation with the appropriate people for the appropriate reason. If someone is not directly involved with your students’ education, then there is no reason for him or her to know about these details about your students. If you have volunteers or older students as cross-age tutors in your classroom, make sure that they know the laws related to FERPA and observe them. Again, that is not a difficult decision to make — just quote the law.
Besides relying on CEC, you can also conduct an Internet search, especially on federal and state education sites, to access the law. Also, your administrator should be able to provide you with a copy of your district’s special education policies. I do hope that you can take some time to become familiar with the legal basis for the special education profession and education of qualified students.
Next I will share some ideas for working in a resource class. Even if you are currently working in a classroom with full collaboration, maybe some of the ideas will be useful to both you and your co-teacher. As always, feel free to post any comments or ask questions. We are here to help and we can all learn from each other.
Jane H. Humphrey, NBCT