Special education is a broad term that refers to specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of a child with a disability. Special education provides support to children who need assistance in a variety of developmental areas. Services can include instruction in the classroom, at home or in hospitals and can range from a specific program or class for the child to access to specialists and modifications in the educational program such as in curriculum or teaching methods. The type of service varies based on the child’s needs, as educational disabilities can range from mild to severe and can include mental, physical, behavioral and emotional disabilities.

“She is a tree of life for those who hold fast to her, and happy are those who support her.”

Pirkei Avot - Ethics of the Fathers 3:18

IEPs & Public Schools

A child’s special education curriculum is part of his/her Individualized Education Program (IEP). In order for a child to qualify for services, he/she must have met at least one of 13 categories of special education proven to adversely affect his/her educational performance.

In public schools, special education services are free. The Federal law, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), requires that children be offered Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). One feature of an appropriate education is that it is provided in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) in which a student can progress with appropriate supports.

Getting Started

If you suspect your child may need special education services, the first step is to get him/her evaluated. You can request this free evaluation through your school district. If the evaluation reveals that your child does not have one of the qualifying disabilities, he/she may still qualify for services under Section 504 of the American Disabilities Act of 1973.

It is important for parents that their child receives an appropriate education. Please refer to the Department of Education: Exceptional Student Education online for additional information.

In addition, Florida’s school choice programs allow parents to choose the best educational setting — public or private — for their child. The McKay Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities provides Florida students with special needs the opportunity to attend a participating private school. The McKay Scholarship Program also offers parents public school choice. A parent of an eligible special needs student may choose to transfer the student to another public school.

Step Up For Students – The Gardiner Scholarship – helps parents individualize the educational plans for their children with certain special needs. PLSA allows parents to personalize the education of their children with unique abilities by directing money toward a combination of programs and approved providers. These include schools, therapists, specialists, curriculum and technology – even a college savings account. This scholarship is for Florida students 3 years old through 12th grade or age 22, whichever comes first, with one of the following disabilities: autism spectrum disorder, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Spina bifida, Williams syndrome or intellectual disability (severe cognitive impairment). Also, students in kindergarten deemed “high risk” due to developmental delays and not older than 5 on Sept. 1 may be eligible for the year they apply.

In Palm Beach County, eligible ESE students are provided services from birth through age 22. ESE services are available at all public school sites throughout the district. The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to providing exceptional students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in accordance with federal, state and local mandates. The school district offers a Parent University Program offers parents an opportunity to participate in workshops that focus on practical strategies and resources.

Donna Klein Jewish Academy Seiff Learning Academy was created for students in Grades 1-8 who benefit from a specialized educational environment in order to develop their strengths while addressing their learning challenges. The Academy specifically serves students with language-based l earning disabilities who have not yet reached their potential levels of success in traditional classroom settings. The program emphasizes a structured, multi-sensory, language-based curriculum.

Katz Hillel Day School Etgar Program provides intensive intervention and special services for students with significant learning disabilities. Educational programs are tailored to the individual learner.

Unicorn Village Academy A specialized school offering social, emotional and academic support from middle school to post secondary programs and employment, promoting independence, self-advocacy, and preparation for life.

Additional Resources

  • Birth to 22: United for Brighter Futures (Birth to 22) supports the healthy growth, development and education of our children and youth prenatally through young adulthood, so that they can graduate from high school and succeed in life. Committed to a common agenda, Birth to 22 is an alliance of Palm Beach County community partners that engages and aligns existing coalitions, networks, systems and youth-serving organizations, as well as connecting families, community members, and most importantly, with local young people directly.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
  • U.S. Department of Education – The Department of Education provides a list of resources pertaining to the needs of children with disabilities.
  • The National Center for Learning Disabilities – The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is committed to ensuring that all students with learning disabilities graduate from high school with a standard diploma – prepared for college and the workplace
  • Learning Disabilities Association of America – Since 1964, the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) has provided support to people with learning disabilities, their parents, teachers and other professionals. Today, the LDA is the largest nonprofit volunteer organization advocating for individuals with disabilities, and provides cutting-edge information on learning disabilities, practical solutions and a comprehensive network of resources.
Americans Live With an Autism Spectrum Disorder
of Children Have Been Diagnosed with a Developmental Disability