What is Special Education?

  •  Boy on computer   Two women and a student standing in front of a chalkboard   Teacher and student working on a lesson
    The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines special education as: "Specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability."


    Special education ensures that the unique needs of students with disabilities are met through additional services, supports, programs, specialized placements, or environments. Special education services are provided to eligible students at no cost to families. The core purpose of special education is to provide specially designed instruction and intervention, as well as to give students with disabilities access to the same educational programs and/or activities that are available to their nondisabled peers.


    The focal point of special education is the student whose unique educational needs necessitate a tailor-made program of instruction.



    Special education provides the student with disabilities purposeful, targeted intervention that is designed to help mitigate obstacles that may preclude an individual him or her from learning and actively participating in school and society.


    Access to Core Curriculum  

    While teaching students in the most integrated environment is an important objective of special education, attention also has to be focused on addressing curriculum access.



    The IDEA includes 14 primary terms under the main definition of “a child with a disability.” These federal definitions guide how states define who is eligible for a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under special education law.



    Eligibility of students with disabilities for special education is determined by the individualized education program (IEP) team according to specific criteria. 


    LAUSD Progress

    As a result of a class action lawsuit initiated by a group of plaintiffs in 1993, the Los Angeles Unified School District (the District) has been under federal court oversight for special education since 1996 through a consent decree. In 2003, the plaintiffs and the District returned to federal court to revise the consent decree in order to improve educational results for students with disabilities.


    Least Restrictive Environment

    More than 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities is most effective by having high expectations and ensuring access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom.


    Programs, Supports, and Services

    The Division of Special Education provides a range of program and related services to students found eligible for special education.


    The Special Education Process

    There are five basic steps in the special education process: (1) Referral for Assessment; (2) Assessment; (3) The Individualized Education Program (IEP) Meeting; (4) Determination; and (5) IEP Review.