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Special Education Language

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Note: Any word written in bold is defined in this glossary.


Adverse Effect/Adversely Affects

Except for a SLD, the categories of disability under IDEA require that the disability causes an adverse effect on the student's educational performance.  Under the MUSER, “adverse” commonly means “harmful, impeding, obstructing, or detrimental.” To “adversely affect” means to have a negative impact that is more than a minor or transient hindrance, evidenced by findings and observations based on data sources and objective assessments with replicable results.  An adverse effect on educational performance does not include a developmentally appropriate characteristic of age/grade peers in the general population.

Child Find

Public school districts must identify, locate and evaluate children with disabilities who need special education and related services. This covers all children who reside in the school district, and the service must be free. It includes children who are:

  • homeless
  • highly mobile
  • migrant
  • home schooled
  • in DHHS custody
  • in private schools
  • being detained at Long Creek or Mountain View Youth Development Centers
  • in county jail, or
  • frequently absent (have 7 consecutive or 10 cumulative unexcused absences in one school year)

If a child is committed to Long Creek Youth Development Center or Mountain View Youth Development Center, the Department of Corrections is responsible for Childfind (not the local school district). A student suspected of having a disability must be referred to the IEP Team.

Compensatory Education

This is a remedy for students whose rights have been violated under IDEA. You can ask the hearing officer to order the school to give extra services to your child to make up for services she should have received but did not. For example, summer school, art classes, tutoring, etc.


If you believe the school has violated a child's rights under IDEA, you can file a complaint with the Maine Department of Education (DOE). The DOE has 60 days to investigate the complaint. If it finds violations, it will order a corrective action plan. If the DOE does not find any violations, and you disagree, you can appeal to a due process hearing.

Dispute Resolution Session

The school has 30 calendar days to resolve the problems a parent raised in a due process hearing request to the parent's satisfaction.  It must schedule a dispute resolution meeting within 15 calendar days of when it gets a copy of a parent's due process hearing request. If the parent and school reach an agreement at the resolution meeting, it must be written down and both parties must sign it.  The school must make changes that it agreed to within 30 calendar days of when it received the copy of the parent's due process hearing request.

DOE or Department of Education

The Maine Department of Education is the state agency that oversees public schools. The DOE makes sure that schools follow IDEA, and it handles requests for mediation, due process hearings and complaints. The Maine DOE writes the Maine Unified Special Education Regulations that govern IDEA. The DOE also creates state forms for schools to use, like the IEP. The DOE does not have authority over Section 504 and schools.

Due Process

At any time, parents have a right to request a "due process hearing" if they disagree:

  • with the IEP Team's determination of their child's eligibility
  • their child's IEP, or
  • with the manifestation determination made by the IEP Team

The school may request a due process hearing if:

  • it wants to place a student in an IAES because it believes the student poses a danger, or
  • it denies a parent's request for an IEE

To file a "due process" request, get a "dispute resolution request form" from the Department of Education (DOE), fill it out, and mail it back to them. The school will contact you to schedule a dispute resolution session within 15 days.  The school has a total or 30 days after it gets a copy of the hearing request to put into effect any agreement reached at the dispute resolution session.  If that does not happen, the DOE will hold a hearing within 30 calendar days after the dispute resolution period. The hearing officer must make a decision within 15 days after the hearing ends.

ED: Emotional Disability

To qualify under IDEA, a student must have at least one of the 14 types of disabilities defined in the law.  One of these categories of disability is an "emotional disability," or ED. For ED a student must have 1 of 5 symptoms that causes an adverse effect on the student's educational performance and requires specialized instruction:

  • inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal situations
  • pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression
  • inability to build and maintain relationships with peers and teachers
  • physical symptoms or fear related to school or personal problems
  • inability to learn that cannot be explained
There is an exception, which is "social maladjustment," which is not defined by the federal or state regulations.
Educational Performance

IDEA defines educational performance as both academic and non-academic skills.  Examples of non-academic skills are developmental or functional skills, like communication, social/emotional coping skills, behaviors, etc.)


"Extended school year" services are provided to a student with a disability during the summer. ESY services are appropriate when it is likely that the student will lose skills during long breaks from school. The ESY plan must be based on the student's individual needs and not the program that happens to be available at the school district.


All students who quality under IDEA are entitled to a "free appropriate public education," or FAPE.  Parents do not have to pay for any part of their child's special education services. This includes the cost of supportive services, such as transportation, counseling, and speech therapy. Also, the child's IEP must be "reasonably calculated" to lead to his or her advancement in the general curriculum. Appropriate does not mean "best." If the student:

  • has passing grades,
  • behaves appropriately,
  • is meeting developmental milestones, and
  • gets along with peers and teachers,
then the program is appropriate.
FBA or Functional Behavior Assesment

When the IEP Team meets for its manifestation determination, it should do a "functional behavioral assessment." The purpose of a FBA is to figure out why a student is behaving inappropriately. The IEP Team should discuss triggers that usually bring about the problem behaviors and what the student gets out of the behaviors (such as, more attention). Then the IEP Team can develop effective plans - such as positive behavioral strategies - to help the student avoid the problem behaviors. A parent’s input should be considered in the FBA.


The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is another federal law. It ensures that a child's school records are kept private. It also gives parents the right to see and amend their child's school records. This applies to all students, not just special education students. If the school violates a student's privacy rights, a parent can ask for a hearing from the school, file a complaint with the Maine DOE, or if it is within 180 days of the violation, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.


An "interim alternative educational setting," or IAES, is a temporary placement that the school can set up for a maximum of 45 school days.  Schools may use this to discipline a student with disabilities who brings a weapon or illegal drugs to school or causes substantial bodily injury to someone. The school can also place a student in an IAES if it proves at a due process hearing that she poses a danger to herself or others.

IDEA: Individual with Disabilities Education Act

This federal law gives more rights for special education students than ever before. Most of the other terms that are described here come from this federal law.


This stands for an "independent educational evaluation." If a parent disagrees with the school's evaluation of his/her child, the parent has the right to request an IEE. The school can ask a parent why he/she wants one but cannot require a parent to give an explanation. The school must pay for the IEE or make sure it is free to the parent (by billing MaineCare, for example). The parent chooses the evaluator. The evaluator cannot work for the school district. The evaluator must be located in Maine and must be qualified. The only way a school can deny a parent's request for an IEE is for the school to request a due process hearing and prove its evaluation is accurate and complete.


This is short for "individualized education program." Every student who qualifies for special education services under IDEA must have an IEP. The IEP team develops the IEP; it must be in writing. The IEP must state:

  • The student's current level of performance
  • Measurable annual goals and short term objectives for meeting those goals, including how those goals will be measured. The goals should meet the Maine Learning Results standards
  • How the school will notify the parent of the student's progress with his IEP goals
  • The educational and supportive services that will be provided, including the start date, location, duration, amount and staff who will provide each service. This includes positive behavioral interventions for students whose behavior interferes with their learning
  • Why the student cannot be in the regular ed class (if he cannot be)
  • Any special ed transportation
  • If the child is 14, postsecondary goals

IEPs must be in effect at the beginning of the school year and must be updated annually. The school cannot change the placement or services in an IEP without first having an IEP Team meeting or getting a parent's informed written consent to a change.

IEP Team

Unless the parent agrees in writing to having an IEP Team member excused from an IEP Team Meeting, IEP Team members must include:

  • The child's parents (who are equal participants)
  • At least one of the student's regular ed teachers, if the child is or will be in the regular classroom setting
  • At least one of the child's special ed teachers
  • A school district representative who is qualified to provide specially designed instruction, knows about the general curriculum and the availability of resources at the school (usually the special ed director)
  • Someone who can interpret the student's evaluations and how they relate to eductional instruction (can be one of the people listed above)
  • The student, if appropriate
  • Anyone the parent or school invites who has special knowledge of the student
  • The student's community case manager, if there is one, and
  • Someone from the transition services agency, if the child is 16 or older and the parents or adult child agree to that person being invited

This team of people is responsible for deciding:

  • what evaluations a child needs
  • if a child qualifies for services under IDEA, and if so under what category of disability
  • in cases of disciplinary issues, if there is a manifestation, and
  • what the IEP will include (the type and level of services and the placement of the child in the least restrictive environment)
IDEA says that the student must be placed in the "least restrictive environment." The LRE is a place that:
  1. allows the most interaction between the student and her nondisabled peers, and
  2. is located closest to the child's home

Here is the list of placements, starting with the least restrictive, going to the most restrictive:

  • Regular classroom with pullout services less than 21% of time
  • Resource room (21-60% of day)
  • Self-contained classroom for more than 60% of day
  • Public separate day school (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting)
  • Private separate day school (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting)
  • Public residential placement (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting)
  • Private residential placement (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting)
  • Hospital and/or home instruction
  • Incarceration
Manifestation Determination

A child with a disability under IDEA can be removed from school for 10 school days in a school year without receiving any educational services. After 10 school days, it is a change in placement.  At that point, the IEP Team must meet. At this meeting, the IEP Team will decide:

  • if the student's behavior is substanitally and directly related to the student's disability or
  • if the school failed to implement the student's IEP and that failure caused the student's inappropriate behavior

If the behavior and disability are related or if the IEP was not followed and the student acted inappropriately because of that, the student cannot be disciplined. This means that the student cannot be suspended or recommended for expulsion

MD or Multiple Disabilities

This is sometimes referred to as MH or Multi-handicapped. It is another of the 14 types of disabilities for school-age children. This applies to students who have more than 1 of the 13 disabilities listed under IDEA (for example SLD and ED) and their needs cannot be met in a special education program that only addresses one of the disabilities. For example, specialized instruction in reading will not address a student’s behavioral needs for an ED.


A parent and the school can always choose to meet with a mediator to see if they can reach an agreement. The Department of Education (DOE) offers this option when a complaint or due process hearing request is filed.  A parent or school can also ask the DOE to provide a "stand alone" mediation, meaning a complaint or due process hearing request has not been filed.  Everything said at mediation is confidential except for a written agreement or reports of suspected child abuse or neglect.  If a parent does not have a lawyer at the mediation, the school cannot have a lawyer there either.

MUSER: Maine Unified Special Education Regulations

These are the regulations for IDEA/special education that were written by the Maine Department of Education. 

OHI: Other Health Impairment

OHI is another one of the 14 types of disabilities for school-age children under IDEA. A student with OHI:

  • has limited strength, vitality or alertness (including hyper-alertness) in school
  • the problem is caused by chronic or acute health problems (asthma, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, lead poisoning), and
  • the problem has an adverse effect on the student's educational performance, and
  • the student needs specialized instruction
Pre-hearing Conference

When there is a request for a due process hearing and the case has not settled at a dispute resolution session or mediation, the hearing officer will hold a pre-hearing conference with the parent and the school. The purpose of the conference is to identify and limit the issues for hearing and exchange exhibit and witness lists.

Pre-Referral Procedures

This is a new process for children who are at risk of failing. The purpose is to determine if the child needs a different type of instruction or intervention, rather than special education services. School staff do this before making a referral for special education. Regular classroom teachers will use different teaching techniques or behavior interventions. They will monitor the child’s progress and collect that data. The teacher will be looking to see if the areas of concern are addressed by the new teaching technique. The technique must be based on scientifically based procedures using "Curriculum Based Measures."

The goal of the pre-referral intervention is to narrow the gap between the student’s grade level goals and the student’s individual performance. A pre-referral team must meet within 30 school days to review the child’s progress. This must be documented. If the child’s performance has not improved, the team should refer the child to the IEP Team, along with all of the documentation from the pre-referral process.

A parent can opt out of the pre-referral process and ask the IEP Team for immediate evaluation for special education eligibility.

Section 504

This refers to the first federal law that gave students with disabilities a right to a FAPE. It is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It applies only to schools that get some kind of federal funding, such as school lunch program or Title I money. The definitions of disability are broader than under IDEA. But procedural rights under Section 504 are not as strong as in the IDEA. If the student is classified under Section 504, the school must implement a 504 plan. The plan must give the student a FAPE, but the plan does not have to be in writing. If a school violates Section 504, parents can complain to the regional Office of Civil Rights. Under Section 504 a FAPE means students with qualifying disabilities receive services or benefits that are similar to those services and benefits given to students without disabilities.

SLD or LD: Specific Learning Disability or Learning Disability

Another of the 14 types of disabilities under IDEA. The child has difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or math because of how her brain processes information. The student will not be able to adapt to pre-referral procedures. And there will be large difference between the student's ability and her achievement.

Stay Put

The "stay put" rule applies when a due process hearing is requested. This means the student stays in his or her current educational placement while the appeal is pending. "Stay put" does not apply if both the parent and the school agree to a different interim placement.

Transition Plan

The IEP must include "transition services." These services help the student plan for life after he/she is no longer in school - training, college, employment, community involvement, independent living, etc.  The IEP must include a transition plan at the start of the school year when the student will turn 16 years old. It should address the student's class selection, with transition in mind. For example, will the student be moving into vocational classes or college prep classess?  This plan should include other services, such as life skills and job training. Agencies outside of the school may provide these services. Those agencies should be named in the plan.

Triennial or Triennial Evaluation

Once every 3 years, the school must conduct a new comprehensive evaluation in all areas of suspected disability for students identified with disabilities under IDEA unless the parent and the school agree a re-evaluation is not needed.

Last update: May 2013