Special Education

The department promotes educational services and programs for all Tennessee's students with special education needs. The department is committed to systematic planning along with plan implementation, tracking, and accountability as a vehicle for providing the leadership necessary for fulfilling this purpose.

The Beliefs that Drive our Work

  • Special education is not a place. It is the most intensive intervention along the continuum of service defined by individual need, services, and placement.
  • Strong leadership at every level is the foundation of a collaborative and inclusive environment that supports ALL students.
  • All students are general education students first. Every student can learn, demonstrate growth, and must have access to high quality, evidence-based instruction that maximizes their potential in the least restrictive environment.
  • Educators are professionals, content experts, and the key to student success. They should be supported instructionally and professionally.
  • All students can achieve postsecondary success.
Special Education Framework

Special Education Framework

Several years ago, the department developed the first Special Education Framework and has continuously garnered feedback from educators on how to improve the framework in order to be most useful to teachers as they support students with disabilities.

In August 2018, the department shared the revised Special Education Framework at the special education directors' conference. The purpose of the framework is to support educators in writing instructionally appropriate IEPs. The framework is organized into two sections:

  • General information about special education
  • Writing IEPs

The framework has been updated to include best practices and tips for writing instructionally appropriate IEPs, alongside IDEA requirements. Other improvements include a component on the development of writing short-term objectives, additional clarification around service delivery, best practices in transition planning, and links to eligibility resources for the IEP team.

In March 2022, the department released the administrator’s companion guide to the Special Education Framework. School leaders play a crucial role in establishing a schoolwide mindset that regards special education as an integral part of the school community, and not a separate placement or program to be isolated from general education. The purpose of this companion guide, School Leadership for Special Education, is to provide the most pertinent information regarding the multifaceted roles of principals and assistant principals that oversee the delivery of core instruction, interventions, and services provided to students with disabilities throughout the state of Tennessee.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law ensuring appropriate services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (ages birth through age two) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA, Part C. Children and youth (ages 3–21) receive special education and related services under IDEA, Part B.

In addition to meeting the legal requirements of IDEA, the commitment made by districts and schools to provide a high-quality education in an inclusive setting to all students with disabilities is crucial to their success.

IDEA Key Terms

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) 

The IDEA (reauthorized in 2004) ensures a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided to children and youth with disabilities at public expense.

  • This includes an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education.
  • This is provided in conformity with the individualized education program (IEP).
  • Students must be permitted to register at their school of zone.
  • Transfer students must be provided with comparable services while eligibility and the IEP is reviewed.
  • Textbooks must be provided to all students.
  • Special events, field trips, computers, and library materials must be covered and provided to all students.
Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The IDEA requires that children be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) in which they can progress.

  • "To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily" (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5)(A)).
  • Special education instruction must be provided to students with disabilities in their LRE.
  • Students with disabilities must be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Students with disabilities must be educated in the school they would attend if they did not have a disability, unless the student's IEP requires other arrangements.
Continuum of Services

The IDEA mandates that each school district provides a continuum of placements and requires that the district annually provide to the department an assurance that a continuum of alternative placements are available to meet the needs of children with disabilities" (34 C.F.R. 300.115).

Inclusive Practices

Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of students with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for all students and ensuring students with disabilities' access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.

Tenncare Billing Manual

The department, in collaboration with the Division of Tenncare, is pleased to provide school districts with a Tenncare Billing Manual to address the coverage by TennCare of medical services provided in a school setting. TennCare is the state of Tennessee’s Medicaid program that operates within the guidelines set by the federal government. This program allows school districts to seek payment for providing medically necessary services (related services) to Medicaid eligible children.

2017-18 Special Education Course Code Revisions FAQ

Amendment to State Rule on Parent Participation FAQ

Assessment Accommodation Guidelines

Five Tips for Avoiding Procedural Violations with RTI2

Guidelines for Transportation of Oxygen on School Buses

IAIEPs Service Delivery and Least Restrictive Environment

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)  

Prior Written Notice One-Pager

Required Timelines for IDEA

Significant Disproportionality FAQ

Special Education Course Code Revisions PowerPoint

State Board of Education Rules and Regulations

Student Transfer Flowchart