The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA," 20 U.S.C. §1400, et seq.) is a federal law passed in 1975 to provide the states with funding to create and develop programs to provide eligible disabled children with a "free appropriate" public education. With the Congress’ permission, the Department of Education creates hundreds of federal regulations that specifically set forth the requirements of the IDEA. In addition, the states pass their own laws, and each state’s board of education creates its own regulations and rules to ensure that the requirements of the act are met in their schools.
What I Need to Know in a "Nutshell"
If there is a student who is struggling and is suspected of having a disability, the first step is to usually hold a GEI (General Educational Intervention) meeting. Typically the regular classroom teacher, special education teacher, counselor and administrator attend these to brainstorm strategies and discuss the possibility of testing the student for a disability. If these strategies don't work, then a school employee approaches the parents for permission to test the student. A parent also has the right by law to request testing be done.
As soon as the paperwork is signed, testing must be completed within a certain time period. When the testing is done, a special education case conference is held. Parents have a right to have an "advocate" attend the meetings with them. Testing results are presented by a school psychologist and/or counselor. At this point, it is up to the case conference committee to determine eligibility. To qualify for a disability, the student has a condition that interferes with his/her ability to perform one or more acclivities of living or learning. If the child qualifies, an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is created. A copy is given to the regular classroom teacher, special education teacher who is servicing the student, parent, and a copy for the student's school file.
It is important for the regular classroom teachers to share the IEP with the art teacher. However, many times this is not done and the art teacher will have to ask to read a copy of the IEP from the special education teacher or file. Because of IDEA, a special education student is placed in the "least restrictive environment." IDEA mandates that whenever possible, disabled children should be educated in the regular classrooms. If not possible, then they must be educated in the setting that provides the maximum opportunities for interaction with non-disabled peers. Many times this means that the student is placed in the regular classroom at least part of the day. The majority of the time, these students will be in your classroom.
Many times, teachers resist "inclusion" but it is the law and as a professional, you should do your best to help this student become successful. You are required by law to follow the IEP and ignorance is not a defense. Keep in mind that only those on a "need to know" basis are allowed to view an IEP. The most common special education category is speech impairment. These students usually graduate from the program after a few years. Usually the art teacher will not need to read their IEP.
After the student is placed in special education, educators are required to hold an annual case review. This does not preclude any emergency meetings that may have to occur if there is trouble with the placement. Art teachers can request to attend these meetings if they have a vested interest in the outcome. You can read an excellent PDF document  that gives a nice summary of IDEA.
As if that isn't difficult, there is another category called a 504. Usually students who need just a few modifications have a 504. Typically ADHD students, students with severe allergies, and minor impairments qualify. The modification might be simply allowing extra time on a test. For students with kidney ailments, the modification might be to grant the student extra bathroom breaks. A section 504 plan also is usually shorter and more informal.
In 2004, IDEA had some significant changes- especially for the secondary teacher. The law changed the diagnostic information that secondary schools are required to develop for graduating students. The law calls for a summary of student performance that specifies that "a local educational agency shall provide the child with a summary of the child's academic achievement and functional performance, which shall include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting the child's post secondary goals" (IDEA, 2004, Section 614). Other changes
include the fact that "Limited English Proficiency" is now one of the five conditions considered to prevent a child from learning when considering the child has a learning disability. This new law takes effect on October 14, 2006.
In other words, high schools must now create a summary of achievement, performance, and recommended modifications for their adult life. The intent of the Summary of Performance is to describe a student’s current performance and functional limitations based on a historical review of assessments and services received in the K-12 setting. It will identify accommodations and supports that may be beneficial in post secondary education and employment. It is clear, however, that the more traditional documentation to which post secondary institutions have become familiar (e.g., measures of aptitude, achievement, and processing that are no more than 3-years old) will no longer be required nor be readily available.
For more information on the 2004 additions and changes:
Book:Making Art Special: A Curriculum for Special Education Art - A guide to teaching art to children with cognitive and motor disabilities in a classroom or other setting. Includes over fifty, full color, illustrated lessons, with step-by-step instructions, as well as helpful information for creating your own lessons.
Classroom Management and Special Education
Students in special education usually need a different form of discipline. Sometimes discipline problems with these children are a result of their needs not being met. You can meet their needs better if you make some modifications to your classroom and technique. A list of possible modifications include:
Independent work is given to them in segments.
Allow extra time for the student to complete their work.
Information is presented visually such as on an overhead, posters, etc. This is not a problem for art teachers.
Before drawing or writing, have the student do a few simple exercises such as pushing hands together, and squeezing and relaxing fists
Allow the child to stand at their desk and/or table
Small group and cooperative learning
Allow "wait" time for thinking before they answer a question.
Use open-ended questions
Students read or complete sections of an assignment and then share with a small group.
Although special education students may need an individualized behavior plan, you have to be careful not to make it appear you are singling them out. For example, if you have a point system for them, have a point system for the rest of the students. If you have an ongoing problem with a special education student, consult with the special education teacher. They probably will have some recommendations for you. They can also bring up the behavior in an annual case review.
Instructional Strategies for Learning Disabilities
In many cases, the art teacher will not need to make any modifications to their teaching style or instruction with special education students. This is because art is very visual and these students do well when learning visually. Your approach depends on their disability. There are many categories of learning disabilities.
With physically handicapped students, frequently there are tools to aid them. I once had a student without arms and legs. This student functioned quite well by gripping his brush and pencil between his cheek and shoulder. Others use their mouths. Autistic students can be difficult to work with because they have trouble with communication and are frequently in their own world. Repetition works well with these students.
These children present a challenge for most teachers. They have short attention spans, squirm in their chairs, are hyperactive, create disturbances, and have a hard time completing tasks. Rather than go into detail here, there are many websites that are available to help you.
There are varying degrees of visual impairments in children. Some are totally blind, but the majority has some vision. There is an interesting web page that shows how photography can be used by children with visual impairments.
Following are some pertinent links on color blindness:
The Hispanic population in the USA has exploded the past 10 years. It is now very common to have students who know little, if any English. How does an art teacher deal with these students?
Art teachers have a slight advantage over other teachers because visual aides don't need any translation. However, when it comes to lecturing or the written word, these students will have difficulty. There are resources online to help you out.
I recommend translating all your newsletters and communications into Spanish (or other language) by using free online tools such as Bing, Google's translation tools, and Free Translater.com. These won't give you perfect translations, but you will get your point across.