AFC's Guide to Special Education

Advocates for Children of New York
Advocates for Children of New York
Publication Year:
May 13, 2020
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being

This guide is meant to introduce parents of students in New York City to the special education process. It provides an overview of special education services, the rights of students with disabilities, and your rights as the parent of a child with a disability. This guide is meant primarily for parents of school-age children, from kindergarten to 12th grade. For more information about special education services for younger children, please refer to Advocates for Children’s Guide to Early Intervention and Guide to Preschool Special Education Services, both available in English and Spanish at



Many people think of special education as separate classes or separate schools, but special education is actually a continuum of specially designed instruction, including a combination of supports and services, intended to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. These supports and services are documented in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Depending on the needs of the child, services may be provided in a general education setting, in a separate special education classroom, or in a combination of both settings (see pages 23-25 for the continuum of services).

The federal law about special education is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA guarantees a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for each student. New York State and New York City also have laws and policies about special education. A federal court case called Jose P. provides some additional rights to parents and students living in New York City.

Least Restrictive Environment

The law requires that every student with a disability be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE), which means, to the maximum extent possible, a child with a disability should be educated with non-disabled peers. A student with a disability is entitled to receive the extra academic or behavioral support that will allow the student to progress in the least restrictive environment.

A student with a disability should only be removed from the general education environment when his or her disability is so severe that the child cannot progress, even with the help of aides and services, in a general education setting. Since special education is designed to meet a child’s unique needs, it may take many forms and occur in many places. Special education includes instruction in the classroom, at home, and in hospitals and institutions.


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