Special education refers to the individualized educational program (IEP) designed to meet the special needs of a child (up to 21 years of age in this context) with a disability, to help them learn and succeed. Disabilities might include physical, mental, behavioral, emotional, or learning difficulties. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all public schools provide children with disabilities this individualized special education. Further, while private schools are not required to design an IEP, they must still adhere to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and thus must still make reasonable accommodations for a child’s disability.
Special education can refer to a wide variety of services. Most students learn in general education classrooms, also known as the least restrictive environment (LRE). Some of these students spend all of their time in general education classrooms, aided by specialized materials or support while others take some classes outside of the general classroom. Other students are better served outside of the general classroom, taking all or most of their classes in special education programs, either within a public school or in a specialized school.
[Last updated in August of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]