If your child already has an evaluation, receives special education services, or is undergoing the process to determine eligibility for services, you may have noticed there are many people involved in the journey. In this blog, we're breaking down the roles and responsibilities of all of the school-based professionals who are involved in a school's special education program.
According to the National Association of School Psychologists, a school psychologist completes specialized and advanced graduate preparation that includes coursework and practical experiences relevant to both psychology and education.
Not every single school will have an on-site school psychologist, but if not, there will be one at the county level designated to each public school.
A school psychologist's expertise makes them highly qualified members of the school community who have specialities in mental health, learning, behavior, social skills, and other school based skills. School Psychologists work hand in hand with administration, general and special educators, learning coordinators, outside specialists, and most importantly, students and parents in supporting students in their daily school journey.
Some responsibilities of the school psychologist include:
- Helping the school and teachers understand and implement a learning evaluation
- Behavioral interventions
- Mental health interventions
- Academic/learning interventions
- Assessment and progress monitoring
- Data collection and analysis
- Supporting teachers with accommodations and modifications
- Short-term counseling services
- Working with and supporting families
Even if a school doesn't have an on-site school psychologist, they will almost always have a school counselor. In fact, in many states it is mandated by law. School counselors are certified/licensed educators who improve student success by implementing a comprehensive school counseling program. While a school psychologist will have a more clinical approach via testing, researching, and assessing, school counselors will focus more on mental health and behavioral symptoms through individual and group counseling, as well as school programs.
Some responsibilities of the school counselor include:
- Classroom counseling lessons
- Individual and group therapy
- Short-term counseling to students
- Outside referrals for long-term support
- Collaborate with families, teachers, and students
- Working with and supporting families
Special Education Teacher/Learning Specialist
The Special Education Teacher or Learning Specialist is one of the most vital team members in a school's team. Special Educators are highly trained professionals who understand how to help students with developmental, physical, and behavioral/emotional needs.
The special educator is also the one who is responsible for creating an individualized education plan (IEP) for each student. These teachers will work very closely with the classroom teachers to help accommodate a child's needs, as well as offering 1:1 supplemental support if necessary.
Some responsibilities of the special education teacher include:
- Develop and maintain IEPs
- Provide individualized instruction
- Adapt curriculum
- Assess student performance
- Collaborate with teachers, parents, administrators, and the rest of the school team to implement the learning and/or behavior plan
Classroom teachers, whether they be general education or specialized, are the roles families tend to be most familiar with. These individuals are the ones who are with your child the majority of the day delivering academic content, offering emotional support, and supervising recess and lunch breaks. Because they are with your child so frequently, they are one of the most pivotal pieces in the special education plan.
Teachers work closely with parents, psychologists, counselors, special educators, and support teams to ensure modifications and accommodations are in place and that your child is receiving what is necessary for optimal learning throughout the day. They will also be one the first people to notice potential problems and alert the team that monitoring and future testing may be necessary.
Some responsibilities of the classroom teacher include:
- Modifying classwork and assessments based on your child's evaluation
- Providing necessary accommodations in the classroom setting
- Working closely with the special education department to provide support
- Collaborating with parents, students, and other specialists
There are other individuals who might be involved in the process of your child's learning plan who may or may not be on the school campus. Below is a brief breakdown of those professionals.
SLPs are highly specialized professionals who work closely with schools on helping students with speech and language related challenges. Some schools may be lucky to have an in-house SLP, but most of the time, an SLP will be assigned to multiple schools or a family may have to set something up off campus. These professionals help with:
- Prevention and assessment
- Developing individualized care plans for each student.
Vision and Hearing Specialist
Vision and Hearing Specialists are highly trained in detecting and working with auditory and visual challenges in students. Like an SLP, a Vision and Hearing Specialist will most likely not work at one campus full-time. Their roles include:
- Conducting vision and hearing screening tests
- Identifying possible deficiencies
- Conducting follow-up testing
- Collaborating with schools and families to provide necessary care and support
Student Services Coordinator
Some schools or counties will have a Student Service Coordinator who oversees the programs and individuals that provide assistance to students who are already admitted into special education services, are undergoing testing, or are being monitored through a student action plan. These individuals work with all the parties and help to coordinate information. If a school does not have such a role, most likely a representative from the school board will serve as this liaison.
Many schools or districts will also have a social worker who might be involved from time to time. Social Workers can offer support to families and schools and serve as a member of the special education team and often will serve a a point person between parties.