Special education refers to a range of educational and social services provided by the public school system and other educational institutions to individuals with disabilities who are between three and 21 years of age.
Special education provides specially designed instruction to students with exceptionalities in a supportive environment that allows them to successfully meet their needs and enable them to master the curriculum. Special education focuses on a student's strengths while supporting their weaknesses. Each child is different and therefore the educational plan is individualized.
In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act mandated that states provide a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE) to all students, including those with physical, mental, or behavioral disabilities. This special education must include a comprehensive screening and diagnosis by a multi-disciplinary team and the development of an annual Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each student, outlining academic and/or behavioral goals, services to be provided, and methods of evaluation.
In 1997, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) expanded special education services by mandating that all children with disabilities, regardless of the type or severity of their disability, are entitled to FAPE in the least restrictive environment. That is, children requiring special education must by educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent possible in an appropriate program to meet their special needs.
On December 3, 2004, President Bush signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, a major reauthorization and revision of IDEA. The new law preserves the basic structure and civil rights guarantees of IDEA but also makes significant changes in the law.
West Virginia's current Policy 2419, Regulations for the Education of Students with Exceptionalities, guarantees a least restrictive and Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to all individuals with disabilities.