Special Education

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The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a free appropriate public education to all eligible children with disabilities. Refer to Evaluation & Eligibility for more information. The steps in the special education process include:

  1. Identification and referral
  2. Evaluation
  3. Determination of eligibility
  4. Development of an individualized education program (IEP) and determination of services
  5. Reevaluation

There are timelines schools must follow for each step. Timelines help to prevent any delay. Procedural safeguards, which are rights given to the parents of a child with a disability and the child upon reaching the age of majority (age 18), ensure that the child is provided a free appropriate public education according to the Federal and State rules. The services and placement of students with disabilities who need special education, are developed through an IEP, which is the responsibility of local public school divisions.

The Federal and State definition of special education and specially designed instruction are:

Special Education

"Special education" means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent(s), to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction conducted in a classroom, in the home, in hospitals, in institutions, and in other settings and instruction in physical education. The term includes each of the following if it meets the requirements of the definition of special education: (§ 22.1-213 of the Code of Virginia; 34 CFR 300.39)

  1. Speech-language pathology services or any other related service, if the service is considered special education rather than a related service under state standards;
  2. Vocational education; and
  3. Travel training.

Specially Designed Instruction

"Specially designed instruction" means adapting, as appropriate to the needs of an eligible child, the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction: (34 CFR 300.39(b)(3))

  1. To address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability; and
  2. To ensure access of the child to the general curriculum, so that the child can meet the educational standards that apply to all children within the jurisdiction of the local educational agency.

Featured Resources

2024 Roadmap for Special Education

In October 2023, at the request of Superintendent Coons, the Virginia Department of Education received the results of comprehensive, external evaluations of Virginia’s special education programs performed by two leading national experts, Dr. Robert Pasternack and Nathan Levenson. The feedback and recommendations of the evaluators were valuable resources for the State Superintendent's Special Education Workgroup as it developed the 2024 Roadmap for Special Education. This roadmap includes an increased focus on recruitment and retention, inclusion, high-quality instruction for all students, strong systems of parent and family engagement, prioritized monitoring and support, as well as an emphasis on postsecondary pathways for all learners.

Correspondence with Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

In March 2024, VDOE received a follow-up report from OSEP closing out issues identified by OSEP in a 2019 monitoring visit. VDOE also received a report regarding a 2023 monitoring visit which identified regulatory updates.  Virginia’s regulations were last fully updated in 2008.

Copies of the reports, as well as correspondence from the Superintendent and the expected timetable for regulatory changes are available here.

Section Topics

Information for Parents

Parents play an important role in the education of their children, especially parents of children who are identified as having additional needs. The law requires that parents and school personnel work together to provide children with appropriate educational services. Visit the Information for Parents webpage to access resources including the following:

  • Parent's Guide
  • Training Opportunities
  • Resolving Issues
  • Diploma Options

Specific Disabilities

VDOE provides supports to administrators, teachers and parents of children with disabilities. Access the various resources by visiting the following links.

Please refer to Evaluation & Eligibility for more information.

Resolving Disputes

If possible, special education disputes are better resolved at the local level. Parents and school administrators are encouraged to work together to come to an understanding of mutual concerns and come to an agreement in the best interest of the child. VDOE offers several resolution options to disputes, which include the following:

Early Childhood Special Education

For children with disabilities, Virginia's public school system offers early childhood services as part of their special education programs. These Early Childhood Special Education services provide children the support needed to gain skills that are comparable to their typically developing peers.

Secondary Transition

Transition Services for Students with Disabilities is designed to improve the outcomes of students with disabilities in transition to postsecondary education and employment. The transition planning process should enable the student to move successfully from school to postsecondary education and training, employment, independent living, and community participation. The Transition Services page includes the following topics:

  • Career Assessment
  • College Planning Resources
  • Employment
  • Rehabilitation Services
  • Organizations
  • School-to-Work Resources
  • Transition Resources

Individualized Education Program (IEP) & Instruction

The services and placement of students with disabilities who need special education, are developed through an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which is the responsibility of local public school divisions. Explore the various IEP & Instruction resources by using the following links.

Private Day & Residential Schools

In compliance with the Code of Virginia, (§ 22.1-321), the Board of Education has authorized the Superintendent of Public Instruction to issue licenses to Private Day & Residential Schools to operate schools for students with disabilities. No person shall open, operate or conduct any school for students with disabilities in Virginia without a license to operate such school issued by the Board of Education (§22.1-323).

Funding, Law & Reports

The Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a free appropriate public education to all eligible children with disabilities. Learn more by clicking the links below:


Special Education Staff Contacts

Sign up for Email Updates

The following newsletters are available from the Virginia Department of Education and relate to Special Education.

  • Engage Your Family - Information for Families of Students with Disabilities
  • OT PT Update - Information for Occupational Therapists/Physical Therapists
  • Special Education Instructional Services
  • SLP Updates & News - Information for Speech-Language Pathologists
  • TeacherDirect
  • Upward Update - Secondary Transition

Enter your email into the VDOE GovDelivery subscription form to select which newsletters you want to receive.