When entering the world of special education it can feel like people are speaking a different language. This guide will help you understand some of the common terms used by special education professionals. Each of these terms are defined in Maine’s Uniform Special Education Regulations or in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act.

Adverse Effect/Adversely Affects

Under Maine’s Special Education Regulations "adverse" usually means that something is "harmful, impeding, obstructing, or detrimental." To "adversely affect" means that something has a negative impact that is more than a minor or short term difficulty. An adverse effect is shown through findings and observations that are based on data sources and objective assessments, where the results can be repeated.

Generally, an individualized education plan (IEP) team must determine if a child’s disability "adversely affects" their educational performance. If it does, that student may be eligible for special education services. An adverse effect on educational performance must be more than a developmentally appropriate characteristic of age/grade peers.


Child Find

Maine’s public school districts must identify, locate, and evaluate all children with disabilities in the district who need special education and related services. The school districts must do this for free.

This requirement applies to children who are:

  • homeless
  • highly mobile
  • migrant
  • home schooled
  • in DHHS custody
  • in private schools
  • being detained at Long Creek or Mountain View Youth Development Centers
  • in county jail
  • or are frequently absent (have 7 consecutive or 10 cumulative unexcused absences in one school year).

If a child is committed to Long Creek Youth Development Center or Mountain View Youth Development Center, the Department of Corrections is responsible for Child Find (not the local school district). A student suspected of having a disability must be referred to the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Team.


Compensatory Education

This is a remedy for students whose rights have been violated under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). You can ask a hearing officer to order the school to give extra services to your child to make up for services they should have received but did not. For example: summer school, art classes, tutoring, etc.



If you believe the school has violated a child's rights under IDEA, you can file a complaint with the Maine Department of Education (DOE). The DOE has 60 days to investigate the complaint. If it finds violations, it will order a corrective action plan to fix, or make up for, the violations. If the DOE does not find any violations, and you disagree, you can appeal to a due process hearing.


Dispute Resolution Session

The school has 30 calendar days to resolve the problems a parent raised in a due process hearing request to the parent's satisfaction. It must schedule a dispute resolution meeting within 15 calendar days of when it gets a copy of a parent's due process hearing request. If the parent and school reach an agreement at the resolution meeting, it must be written down and both parties must sign it. The school must make changes that it agreed to within 30 calendar days of when it received the copy of the parent's due process hearing request.


DOE or Department of Education

The Maine Department of Education is the state agency that oversees public schools. The DOE makes sure that schools follow federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), and it handles requests for mediation, due process hearings, and complaints. The Maine DOE writes the Maine Unified Special Education Regulations (MUSER) that govern IDEA. The DOE also creates state forms for schools to use, like the Indivudualized Education Plan (IEP). The DOE does not have authority over Section 504 and schools.


Due Process

Parents have a right to request a "due process hearing" if they disagree with:

  • the IEP Team's determination of their child's eligibility
  • their child's IEP
  • with the manifestation determination made by the IEP Team

Parents may request a due process hearing at any time.

Schools may request a due process hearing if:

  • it wants to place a student in an IAES because it believes the student poses a danger
  • it denies a parent's request for an IEE

To file a "due process" request, get a "dispute resolution request form" from the Department of Education (DOE), fill it out, and mail it back to the DOE.

The school will contact you to schedule a dispute resolution session within 15 days. The school has a total or 30 days after it gets a copy of the hearing request to put into effect any agreement reached at the dispute resolution session. If that does not happen, the DOE will hold a hearing within 30 calendar days after the dispute resolution period. The hearing officer must make a decision within 15 days after the hearing ends.


ED: Emotional Disturbance

To qualify for special education services under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), a student must have at least one of the 14 types of disabilities defined in the law. One of these categories is an "emotional disability" or ED.

For ED a student must have 1 of 5 symptoms:

  • inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal situations,
  • pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression,
  • inability to build and maintain relationships with peers and teachers,
  • physical symptoms or fear related to school or personal problems, or
  • inability to learn that cannot be explained.

Just having one of these symptoms is not enought  to qualify a student for special education services. The symptom or symptoms must cause an adverse effect on the student's educational performance and require specialized instruction.


Educational Performance

The federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) defines educational performance as both academic and non-academic skills. Examples of non-academic skills are developmental or functional skills, like communication, social/emotional coping skills, behaviors, etc.


ESY: Extended School Year

"Extended school year" services are provided to a student with a disability during the summer. ESY services are appropriate when it is likely that the student will lose skills during long breaks from school. The ESY plan must be based on the student's individual needs and not the program that happens to be available at the school district.


FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education

All students who qualify under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) are entitled to a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE).

Parents do not have to pay for any part of their child's special education services. This includes the cost of supportive services such as transportation, counseling, and speech therapy.

The student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must be "reasonably calculated" to lead to advancement in the general curriculum.

Appropriate does not mean "best." The program is appropriate if the student:

  • has passing grades,
  • behaves appropriately,
  • is meeting developmental milestones, and
  • gets along with peers and teachers.


FBA: Functional Behavior Assesment

A functional behavior assessment (FBA) is an assessment to figure out why a student is behaving inappropriately. The student's individualized education team (IEP Team) should discuss triggers that usually bring about the problem behaviors and what the student gets out of the behaviors (for example, more attention). Then the IEP Team can develop effective plans - such as positive behavioral strategies - to help the student avoid the problem behaviors. A parent’s input should be considered in the FBA.


FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that ensures that a child's school records are kept private. It also gives parents the right to see and change their child's school records. This applies to all students, not just special education students. If the school violates a student's privacy rights, a parent can:

  • ask for a hearing from the school,
  • file a complaint with the Maine DOE, or
  • if it is within 180 days of the violation, file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.


IAES: Interim Alternative Educational Setting

An "interim alternative educational setting" (IAES) is a temporary placement that the school can set up for a maximum of 45 school days. Schools may use this to discipline a student with disabilities who brings a weapon or illegal drugs to school or causes substantial bodily injury to someone. The school can also place a student in an IAES if it proves at a due process hearing that they pose a danger to themself or others.


IDEA: Individual with Disabilities Education Act

This federal law was originally enacted by Congress in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.


IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation

If a parent disagrees with the school's evaluation of their child they have the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE). The school can ask a parent why they want one, but cannot require a parent to give an explanation.

The school must pay for the IEE, or make sure it is free to the parent (for example, by billing MaineCare). The parent gets to choose the evaluator.

The evaluator:

  • cannot work for the school district,
  • must be located in Maine, and
  • must be qualified.

The only way a school can deny a parent's request for an IEE is for the school to request a due process hearing and prove its evaluation is accurate and complete.


IEP: Individualized Education Program

Every student who qualifies for special education services under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) must have an IEP. The IEP team develops the IEP. All IEPs must be in writing.

The IEP must state:

  • The student's current level of performance.
  • Measurable annual goals and short term objectives for meeting those goals, including how those goals will be measured.
    • The goals should meet the Maine Learning Results standards.
  • How the school will notify the parent of the student's progress with their IEP goals.
  • The educational and supportive services that will be provided, including the start date, location, duration, amount and staff who will provide each service.
    • This includes positive behavioral interventions for students whose behavior interferes with their learning.
  • Why the student cannot be in the regular education class (if they cannot be).
  • Any special education transportation.
  • If the child is 14, any postsecondary goals.

IEPs must be in effect at the beginning of the school year and must be updated every year. The school cannot change the placement or services in an IEP without first having an IEP Team meeting or getting a parent's informed written consent to a change.


IEP Team

The Individualized Edication Program Team is the group decides:

  • what evaluations a child needs,
  • if a child qualifies for services under IDEA, and if so under what category of disability,
  • in cases of disciplinary issues, if there is a manifestation (the student's behavior is substantially and directly related to the student's disability), and
  • what the IEP will include (the type and level of services and the placement of the child in the least restrictive environment).

The IEP Team members must include:

  • The child's parents (who are equal participants)
  • At least one of the student's regular ed teachers, if the child is or will be in the regular classroom setting
  • At least one of the child's special ed teachers
  • A school district representative who is qualified to provide specially designed instruction, knows about the general curriculum, and the availability of resources at the school (usually the special education director)
  • Someone who can interpret the student's evaluations and how they relate to eductional instruction (can be one of the people listed above)
  • The student, if appropriate
  • Anyone the parent or school invites who has special knowledge of the student
  • The student's community case manager, if there is one.
  • Someone from the transition services agency, if the child is 16 or older and the parents or adult child agree to that person being invited

 All of these members must be at the IEP meeting unless the parent agrees in writing to having an IEP Team member excused.


LRE: Least Restrictive Environment

The federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) says that the student must be placed in the "least restrictive environment."

The LRE is a place that:

  • allows the most interaction between the student and her nondisabled peers, and
  • is located closest to the child's home

These are placements, starting with the least restrictive, going to the most restrictive:

  • Regular classroom with pullout services less than 21% of time.
  • Resource room (21-60% of day).
  • Self-contained classroom for more than 60% of day.
  • Public separate day school (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting).
  • Private separate day school (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting).
  • Public residential placement (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting).
  • Private residential placement (more than 50% of school day is outside of the regular school setting).
  • Hospital and/or home instruction
  • Incarceration


Manifestation Determination

A child with a disability under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) can be removed from school for 10 school days in a school year without receiving any educational services. After 10 school days, a removal is a change in placement and the IEP Team must meet.

At this meeting, the IEP Team will decide:

  • if the student's behavior is substanitally and directly related to the student's disability, or
  • if the school failed to implement the student's IEP and that failure caused the student's inappropriate behavior.

If the behavior and disability are related, or if the IEP was not followed and the student acted inappropriately because of that, the student cannot be disciplined. This means that the student cannot be suspended or recommended for expulsion. When the IEP Team meets for its manifestation determination, it should do a "functional behavioral assessment."


MD or Multiple Disabilities

This applies to students who have more than 1 of the 13 disabilities listed under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) (for example a specific learning disability (SLD) and and emotional disability (ED)) and their needs cannot be met in a special education program that only addresses one of the disabilities.  For example, specialized instruction in reading will not address a student’s behavioral needs for an ED. This is sometimes referred to as MH or Multi-handicapped.



Mediation is a process where a parent and a school work with a neutral person to see if they can reach an agreement. The Department of Education (DOE) offers this option when a complaint or due process hearing request is filed. A parent or school can also ask the DOE to provide a "stand alone" mediation, which means that a complaint or due process hearing request has not been filed.

Everything said at mediation is confidential except for a written agreement or reports of suspected child abuse or neglect. If a parent does not have a lawyer at the mediation, the school cannot have a lawyer there either.


MUSER: Maine Unified Special Education Regulations

These are the Maine state special education regulations. These regulations implement the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) IDEA and Maine's special education rules. MUSER were written by the Maine Department of Education.


OHI: Other Health Impairment

OHI is another one of the 14 types of disabilities for school-age children under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA).

A student with OHI:

  • has limited strength, vitality or alertness (including hyper-alertness) in school,
  • the problem is caused by chronic or acute health problem the (asthma, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, lead poisoning),
  • the problem has an adverse effect on the student's educational performance, and
  • the student needs specialized instruction.


Pre-hearing Conference

When there is a request for a due process hearing and the case has not settled at a dispute resolution session or mediation, the hearing officer will hold a pre-hearing conference with the parent and the school. The purpose of the conference is to identify and limit the issues for the hearing and to exchange exhibit and witness lists.

Pre-Referral Procedures

This is a process for children who are at risk of failing academically. The purpose is to determine if the child needs a different type of instruction or intervention, rather than special education services. School staff do this before making a referral for special education.

Regular classroom teachers will use different teaching techniques or behavior interventions. They will monitor the child’s progress and collect data. The teacher will be looking to see if the areas of concern are addressed by the new teaching technique. The technique must be based on scientifically based procedures using "Curriculum Based Measures." The goal of the pre-referral intervention is to narrow the gap between the student’s grade level goals and the student’s individual performance.

A pre-referral team must meet within 30 school days to review the child’s progress. This must be documented. If the child’s performance has not improved, the team should refer the child to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team, along with all of the documentation from the pre-referral process. A parent can opt out of the pre-referral process and ask the IEP Team for immediate evaluation for special education eligibility.


Section 504

This refers to the first federal law that gave students with disabilities a right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). It is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and applies only to schools that get some kind of federal funding, such as school lunch program or Title I money.

The definitions of disability are broader in Section 504 than under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). But procedural rights under Section 504 are not as strong as in the IDEA. If the student is classified under Section 504, the school must implement a 504 plan. The plan must give the student a FAPE, but the plan does not have to be in writing. If a school violates Section 504, parents can complain to the regional Office of Civil Rights. Under Section 504 a FAPE means students with qualifying disabilities receive services or benefits that are similar to those services and benefits given to students without disabilities.


SLD or LD: Specific Learning Disability or Learning Disability

Specific learning Disability or Learning Disability is another of the 14 types of disabilities under the federal Individual with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). A child with a SLD or LD has difficulties with listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling or math because of how their brain processes information. The student will not be able to adapt to pre-referral procedures and there will be large differences between the student's ability and their achievement.


Stay Put

This means the student stays in their current educational placement while a dispute between a parent and school is being resolved. The "stay put" rule applies when a due process hearing is requested. "Stay put" does not apply if both the parent and the school agree to a different interim placement.


Transition Plan

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must include "transition services." These services help the student plan for life after they are no longer in school.  The student's IEP must include a transition plan at the start of their 9th grade school year or when the student turns 16 years old. whichever comes first. It should address the student's class selection, with transition in mind. For example, will the student be moving into vocational classes or college prep classes? This plan should include other services, such as life skills and job training. Agencies outside of the school may provide these services. Those agencies should be named in the plan.


Triennial or Triennial Evaluation

Once every 3 years, the school must conduct a new comprehensive evaluation in all areas of suspected disability for students identified with disabilities under IDEA unless the parent and the school agree a re-evaluation is not needed.


For precise legal definitions, please consult with the Individuals with Disabilities Eduction Act or Maine's Unified Special Education Regulations.

Updated March 2017