Not so long ago, most school children would have identified "special education" as a room. In that room, many of their peers would be taught by specific teachers who did not work with children outside of that room. In many schools, such a room still exists. And it is often necessary to both have and respect the importance of a special education room that serves children whose needs are not best addressed in a mainstream classroom. However, special education is so much more than "a room" and must be understood and treated as such.
As we frequently discuss, federal and state law entitle children with special educational needs to be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. In many, many cases, this environment is a mainstream classroom. Other children thrive in a mainstream classroom part-time, while others need the kinds of attention and resources that special classrooms or facilities provide.
When the public thinks about special education, it is important to conceive of it as a service rather than as a place. Special education is often dynamic and must, by law, be specialized to meet each student's unique needs. To reduce the opportunities and obligations afforded by special education law to a single room in each school is to miss the entire point of special education and to disrespect those who require its multitude of services.
Please, if you are an educator, a parent, a member of the media or any other individual with a stake in projecting the truth about special education in our society, consider illuminating this more dynamic view of special education as a service rather than as a place.
Source: NJ Spotlight, "Op-Ed: We Need to Think About Special Education as a Service, Not a Place," Lawrence S. Feinsod, Sep. 8, 2014