Special Education: What are they talking about?

Special Education Terminology is Confusing! Especially because one term is often used to describe several different things. This handy glossary can help you understand what some common terms mean, and how they apply to your child’s situation.


  1. A document, as in, “Please send me a copy of the most recent IEP.”
  2. A meeting, as in, “There’s an IEP for my son tomorrow at 8:30.”
  3. A program that the document describes, as in, “The principal told me at the IEP (meeting) that they won’t implement the IEP (program) until I sign the IEP (document).”


  1. The school that is designated in the IEP.
  2. The type of program that is designated in the IEP. E.g., “general education placement,” “non-public school placement,” or “residential placement.”
  3. The whole enchilada: “[T]hat unique combination of facilities, personnel, location or equipment necessary to provide instructional services to an individual with exceptional needs, as specified in the [IEP].” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5, § 3042.)

Due Process

  1. The process of asking the administrative judicial system to resolve a dispute over a special education matter. “We’re in due process over this issue.”
  2. The written complaint that is submitted to initiate the process. “She filed the due process on April 14.” “I didn’t see that issue raised anywhere in the due process.”
  3. Not a place! Even though it’s spoken of like one. “They can’t agree, so they’re going to due process.” “We’ve gone to due process three times already!”
  4. Originally, a term not limited to special education matters that describes the concept of “getting your day in court.” When the government, or a government agency like a school district, takes an action that affects your life, the Constitution guarantees that you have the opportunity to know what action they plan to take, and to object and show why the government should not be allowed to do this to you. That’s “due process.”

Stay Put

  1. An operation of law, pursuant to the IDEA, that allows a student to remain in his or her current educational program when there is a disagreement between the family and the school about what is the right program for the student.
  2. A term that is used to refer to the student’s program when this happens, as in: “I thought they wanted to move Charlie Brown out of Ms. Bwah-Bwah’s class?” “Yes, but he’s still there because that’s his stay-put.” Sometimes, there is a dispute about what a child’s stay-put placement should be, and the parents and school district must seek an order from a judge.
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