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Special Education

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At the annual transition fair, students learn about options after high school

Students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education from birth to age 21. For residents of Baltimore, City Schools provides a range of services to ensure that all students' needs are met, whether in regular education classes, resource rooms or self-contained classes at public schools, separate special education centers, or nonpublic special education schools. Students receive appropriate supports, interventions, and rigorous instruction, with the goals of high achievement and postsecondary success.

To the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the particular child's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

Child Find

The first steps in ensuring that the right services are provided are to confirm the nature of a child's special needs and to develop a program that will provide the necessary support. 

If you think your child or a child you know may have a disability related to vision, hearing, health, or behavior, call Child Find at 443-984-1011. This program can arrange for evaluation and help in getting services to support areas including

  • Fine or gross motor development and skills
  • Speech/language development and skills
  • Cognitive or learning functions
  • Social and emotional development and skills
  • Adaptive or self-help skills

Does Child Find work with all children?

Child Find services are available for

  • 3- to 21-year-olds who are not enrolled in school
  • 3- to 21-year-olds who are enrolled in public, private, or parochial schools
  • 3- and 4-year-olds with an Individual Family Service Plan under the Family Choice option who are transitioning to an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

For children younger than 3, please call the Infants and Toddlers Program at 410-396-1666.

Who can refer a child?

In most cases, a parent or guardian contacts Child Find. Sometimes referrals are received from advocates or attorneys representing a parent or by staff members from the Department of Social Services, Department of Juvenile Services, or other state agencies.

How does Child Find work?

Once a referral is received, information about the child is gathered, reviewed, and screened. If the information suggests that the child has a disability, specific assessments will be scheduled. If the results indicate that the child has a disability, an IEP will be developed that outlines the special education and related services that will be provided.

How do I contact Child Find?

For children ages 3 to 21, please call 443-984-1011. For children younger than 3, call the Infants and Toddlers Program at 410-396-1666.

IEPs and 504 Plans

Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans outline accommodations, services, and supports to ensure that students with disabilities can access a free and appropriate public education. 

What's the difference between a 504 plan and an IEP?

A 504 plan provides accommodations to general education students so that they can access the curriculum. An IEP provides a specialized program of instruction to students who have been identified under the law as having a particular educational disability. A student may require 504 accommodations but not IEP services. For example, if a student has poor vision, she or he may simply need 504 accommodations in the general education setting to see the blackboard or projection screen.

Who should I contact if I think my child or a child I know needs a 504 plan or an IEP?

Child Find will provide referrals for children suspected of having a disability. For parents and guardians of children already enrolled in City Schools, you can also ask your principal for the name of a staff member to assist you.

More about Individualized Education Programs 

An IEP is a written document that outlines the supports and services that the IEP team agrees are required to meet the needs of a specific child, based on her or his disability.

How is it determined if a child needs an IEP?

After an adult contacts Child Find or school staff, the school's IEP team meets to review information about the child. If the team suspects that the child has a disability and may need special education, assessments in all areas related to the suspected disability are recommended. These can usually be completed by staff at the school.

The IEP team reviews written reports of the assessments, which include summaries of how any identified disabilities may affect the child's progress in school. The IEP team then completes the evaluation (within 60 days of receiving signed permission from the parent/guardian to assess the child or 90 days from the date of receipt of the written referral, whichever comes first). The parent is given a copy of the assessment reports, the evaluation report, and the IEP team meeting summary.

The evaluation report includes a determination of whether 

  • A disability has been identified 
  • Because of the disability, the child requires special education to be successful in the education setting

If both these things have been determined, an IEP is developed.

What's in an IEP?

An IEP has these components.

Present levels of educational performance. This includes information about the child’s strengths and needs as determined through evaluations by teachers, parents, and school staff. The evaluations can include observations, written or verbal comments, and assessment results. It the child requires services besides those related to academic needs (e.g., language development, behavior, social skills), these concerns will also be outlined.

Goals. The IEP must include measurable goals that can reasonably be accomplished in one year. Goals are based on present levels of educational performance and focus on the child’s needs resulting from the disability. They can be academic, social, or behavioral, or can address other educational needs — but in all cases they should be written to support the child in the general curriculum.

Special education and related services. This describes the set of services that will put the IEP into action and how the services will be delivered. Students with disabilities receive services in the "least restrictive environment." The general education classroom is the preferred setting, but a range of options is available depending on the child's needs. Also included here will be

  • Time during which the child will not participate with nondisabled children in the regular class and other school activities
  • When services will begin, where and how often they will be provided, and how long they will last
  • Transition services (for students who are 16 or in the IEP that will be in effect when the child turns 16)
  • Supports and strategies for behavior management (if behavior interferes with the child's or others' learning)
  • Speech or language needs as related to the IEP
  • Assistive technology devices or services
  • Necessary accommodations (testing, modified work, etc.)
  • Transportation arrangements, if required

Who is on the IEP team?

Typically, the IEP team includes the following:

  • Parent/guardian
  • General education teacher
  • Special education teacher
  • Social worker
  • Psychologist
  • Speech pathologist
  • Nurse/health-related service provider
  • School administrator
  • Outside agency personnel

Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns?

The IEP chair can answer questions about your child's IEP and delivery of services. You can also speak with your school principal.

If you do not receive the information you need or you have a concern that isn't being addressed at the school, please contact the Special Education department in the district's Academics Office.


More about 504 plans

For children who are having difficulty learning but don't qualify for an IEP, a 504 plan may be a good alternative. These plans stem from Section 504 in federal civil rights law, under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which provides protection against discrimination for individuals with documented mental or physical disabilities.

How is it determined if a child is eligible for a 504 plan?

If a student has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the following major life activities, then a 504 plan may be appropriate:

  • Caring for oneself
  • Walking
  • Seeing, hearing, or speaking
  • Breathing
  • Working or performing manual tasks
  • Learning

This determination is made by a team of knowledgeable individuals at the school — including the parents, who are familiar with the student and his or her disability.

How do I request an evaluation?

If you believe that your child may be eligible for a 504 plan, contact your school principal and request a 504 eligibility meeting. 

What sort of accommodations are provided under a 504 plan?

The accommodations depend on the student's needs. For example, a student who uses a wheelchair may have a Section 504 Plan that provides for special transportation during field trips. A student who has diabetes may have a Section 504 Plan that includes a schedule for getting medication.

What do I do if I have concerns about a 504 plan?

If you have concerns about the manner in which 504 decisions have been made or accommodations have been delivered, please contact the district's Academics Office. You may also complete a 504 complaint form.

Assistive technology

Devices, software, or equipment can help with learning for students with disabilities. A student's IEP or 504 plan often indicates the technology needed. The following may be helpful in meeting a specific student's needs.

Digital text (written text to speech) and computer accessibility
Picture communication and vocabulary boards
  • PrAActical AAC provides resources, visual supports, and strategies to improve communication and literacy for students with significant communication difficulties.
  • Core Vocabulary Boards  can be used with nonverbal and low verbal children to help them learn to use picture symbols to communicate. Contact your school's speech-language pathologist for support.
  • The Speaking of Speech Materials Exchange provides picture-based ideas, resources, and activities in the areas of augmentative communication, literacy, recipes, life skills, language, and more.
  • SET Picture Set has a collection of downloadable visual supports that can be used by students for both receptive and expressive language.
  • Symbol World from Widgit software has picture-based stories, games, and interactive activities for all levels.
  • Pics4Learning is a copyright-friendly library of images that can be used in an educational setting.
Universal Design for Learning

Special education regulations

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Special education regulations manual