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A Parents’ Guide to Special Education: Elementary School

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Teaching elementary special education is no easy task. In fact, many interventions are implemented in real time alongside the rest of your class. Your degree may not specifically say special education, but you have the privilege of teaching each one of your students about Jesus, no matter their abilities.

Often, by the elementary school years, interventions have been put into place and the child has received services. Parents understand their child’s unique needs but may still be coming to terms with certain aspects of their child’s individualized care.

We’ve put together an easy-to-share article of frequently asked questions. Feel free to share this with parents or even use it during your next conference. And, look through the library of resources available to you through CESE.


What is SPED in education?

SPED stands for “special education”. Think of it like “SPecial EDucation.” You will hear it often, along with what may seem like countless other SPED acronyms. For example:

  • IEP stands for “Individualized Education Program.” An IEP is developed after receiving consent from the parents and after a considerable amount of observation, assessment, and data-driven questionnaires are used to evaluate the child to determine eligibility for an IEP. Once all of this is collected and processed, the IEP team will have an initial evaluation meeting. This is where parents, teachers, and those who conducted the evaluation will go over the testing results and determine whether or not the child qualifies as having a disability. Once qualified, the child does not need to be re-evaluated for three years.

  • Once a child has been determined to have a qualifying disability, the team puts together an IEP or an ISP. An IEP is a plan that would be carried out in a public school if the student were enrolled there. An ISP is a more limited “Individualized Services Plan” that would be carried out by public school interventionist within the private school. The staff in a private or parochial school can use the information gathered by the IEP team, as well as their recommendations for services, to help them develop their own plan to serve the child in the private school.

  • IEE stands for Independent Educational Evaluation. This evaluation is conducted by a qualified professional, and parents can request an IEE at any time. Many parents utilize this when they disagree with a school district assessment, and any IEE must be presented when designing the IEP.

  • IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a federal law that entitles all special education students from birth to age 21, no matter their personal struggles and/or strengths, to receive special education services.

  • A 504 education plan is a specific plan for children with extraordinary needs. These children have impairments that affect their walking, breathing, eating, speaking, ability to concentrate, and more. Usually a 504 plan is put in place for children who require accommodations but do not qualify for a special education IEP. The special education team at your child’s school will help determine if an IEP or 504 plan is best for your child. Having 504 plans available is a legal requirement at public or publicly-funded private schools, but accommodation plans can be developed at other private schools, even if they are not called 504 plans. The important thing is meeting the children’s needs, no matter what the plans are called.

What qualifies a child for special education?

This answer varies by state, but generally, a child must have a diagnosed and observed qualifying disability to obtain services. These qualifying disabilities often include:

  • Autism

  • Significant developmental delay

  • Intellectual disability

  • Hearing, sight, or speech impairment

  • Emotional or behavioral disability

  • Orthopedic impairment

  • A chronic illness that impacts learning

  • Traumatic brain injury

  • Learning disability

To find out if your child is eligible for elementary special education services, speak with your child’s primary care physician, the principal at your child’s school, their teacher, or the schools’ special education teacher.

What does special education look like?

A special education program should not look very different from the education that all students receive. In fact, federal law requires that children in special education learn in the “least restrictive environment.” This means they should continue to learn in the same classrooms as their classmates when possible and receive their inventions alongside their peers as appropriate.

Of course, some individualized special education programs require the child to spend time out of the classroom. When this happens, it is usually in a one-on-one environment with a specially qualified teacher or other service provider, like a speech pathologist.

Is Christian support available for parents?

Parenting a child with extraordinary needs can be very challenging. If you need support as a parent, please check out the WELS ministry called Light for Parents at The staff of Light for Parents consists of parents who have raised children with special needs and are ready to help you find Christian encouragement and support.


Find More Information with CESE

Of course, there are many different aspects to elementary school special education. Encourage your parents to look at the information provided by CESE. We have been dedicated to supporting the availability of a Christian education for every child, especially those with special needs, for over 35 years. We are always available to help and answer questions, so reach out to us today.

By: Erin Stob


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