How School Counselors Support Special Needs Students

Instructor: Joanna Harris

Joanna has taught high school social studies both online and in a traditional classroom since 2009, and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership

This lesson would benefit anyone looking for information on the school counselor's role in advocating for students with special needs. This lesson also includes information on legislation regarding special-needs students.

The Role of School Counselors

In support of students with special needs, the school counselor plays an important role of advocacy to help them achieve and succeed on a level comparative to other students. Because of expanding legislation, the number of students classified as special needs grows each school year. School counselors should remain vigilant in their efforts to understand special-needs students, the programs and services they have at their disposal to serve these students specifically, the legislation that mandates these services and the manner in which they are provided.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) provides the top five activities performed by school counselors for special-needs students:

  • Providing individual counseling
  • Meeting with administrators about programs and services
  • Using problem solving and conflict resolution with special-needs students when appropriate
  • Scheduling classes and programs
  • Offering career preparation and education.

The ASCA has also set forth the many roles and responsibilities for school counselors regarding special-needs students. The ASCA states that the school counselor is an advocate for special-needs students to ensure they receive every service possible on their road to success directly and indirectly.

They must raise awareness among teachers and staff so they understand students' disabilities and can better educate them. The school counselor should also find appropriate professional development programs in which teachers can learn skills and techniques in lesson planning and instruction for these students.

The ASCA also states that the school counselor must participate in the identification of students with special needs in collaboration with teachers. School counselors and teachers work on screening teams, correspond with parents and guardians about the programs and services that schools can offer special-needs students, and work with administrators to find appropriate programs for special-needs students in accordance with federal and state laws.

Corresponding Legislation

Federal laws and statutes mandate the services that schools must provide for special-needs students. The school counselor is an important stakeholder in providing these programs and services. Often, it is the responsibility of the school counselor to not only provide services to special-needs students, but to also keep teachers and administrators in step with the many different federal laws with their guidance and expertise.

  • Title II of the Education Amendments is an amendment passed in 1976 to the Vocational Education Act of 1963 that provides for vocational training in high school to provide more opportunities for disadvantaged and female students. School counselors are mandated under this law to ensure that their students have access to vocational training in fields such as welding and building trades.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law passed in 1990. It prohibits discrimination against anyone with a disability in many forms of public and private life such as employment, transportation, and education. For example, students who need wheelchair access must have appropriate accommodations in and around school to aid in their mobility and access.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Act is a federal law originally passed in 1975 to provide for children with special needs and disabilities to receive a free and appropriate public education in the same manner as other children. This law comes in three parts and has been amended many times since 1975. Part A is the original law from 1975, but Part B, passed in 2006, is for school-aged children. Part C, passed in 2011, regards infants and toddlers.
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law passed in 1974. It protects the privacy of student education records. For example, a school counselor would not be able to release to the media or discuss the disciplinary records of a student with a behavioral disability who was under indictment for a violent crime.
  • McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was passed in 1987 and provided funding for homeless shelters and services to help homeless people transition to permanent residences. This act was amended in 2001 to include provisions for educating students that school counselors identify as homeless and certain services that can be provided for them while they transition.

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