Special Education

The FJA Special Education team is comprised of several team members: Michael Walsh is the Special Education Coordinator and oversees the whole Special Education Program at Flagstaff Junior Academy. His office is located at the Bonito Campus, although he regularly consults with teachers and aides at both campuses. At the Middle School, we have Special Education Coordinator and Teacher, Michael Walsh, and Teacher, Monica Akens. At the Elementary School, Kaitlin Peterson provides special education services.

The purpose of this document is to give parents, teachers and caregivers a very basic idea of how this system works at our school. This document is intended as an overview. A more complete description can be found in our Policies and Procedures manual.

If you have any questions, please email Michael Walsh, the Special Education Coordinator at Email: michaelwalsh@fjacademy.com.

The basic process of special education is to:

  • Observe how the student is doing academically, physically and socially.
  • Identify specific areas of concern.
  • Try interventions (specific teaching methods) to address those concerns.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions.
  • Decide whether the interventions are successful and can be built upon, or whether an intervention has been unsuccessful and another strategy should be tried.

The process can be broken into three main phases:

1. IDENTIFICATION (Pre-referral)

Identify a student’s learning difficulty. Suggest intervention strategies. Guard against misidentifying a student with extenuating circumstances. Guard against misidentifying a student who has language difficulties due to cultural or linguistic differences. At the beginning of this process a teacher and/or parent may notice that a child doesn’t seem to be keeping pace with peers or expectations.

  • Screening
    A teacher, or other educational professional (such as a speech therapist) may do some informal, low-level testing to look for warning signs for a potential problem.
  • Interventions
    A teacher may then try several strategies to help the student. If unsuccessful, teacher convenes a Student Study Team to gather resources (i.e. other teachers, parents, Special Education Coordinator) the SSTeam meets to narrow down exactly what the problem areas are. The team may decide to recommend a strategy not yet tried by the teacher or parent OR the team may recommend gathering more detailed information to determine whether the student has a disability.

Humans are marvelously complicated creatures. Each child develops at a different rate, especially in early childhood. Many books have been written about why this occurs. The function of pre-referral is to avoid the stigmatizing effects of being labeled with a disability if the issue is really just one of normal development. 

2. EVALUATION (MET-Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team)

Occasionally a parent may have received an independent evaluation. In this case, the IDENTIFICATION (pre-referral phase) may be skipped. However, if a Student Study Team has decided that more precise and detailed information is needed to determine whether a child has a disability, an MET is convened. The team is made up, at a minimum, of the child’s parent, at least one classroom teacher, the Special Education Coordinator, and a representative of the school (usually an Administrator).  The Team reviews all the information gathered to this point and may gather more (for example, classroom performance information, observations, medical history) before the formal meeting of the team. The team will gather and review all this information and make a decision as to whether the child can be identified with a disability. At this point one of two things will happen:


  • The team may decide that the child does indeed have a qualifying disability and moves to the PLANNING phase, or
  • The team may decide that the team needs more precise and detailed information and may request one or more formal evaluations by a qualified clinician. At this point the evaluations get done. Once the evaluations are finished the team re-convenes to determine whether the child has a qualifying disability. Most, but not all of the time, the team has enough information to determine eligibility at this point. Once eligibility is determined, the team moves to the PLANNING phase.

    3. PLANNING (IEP-individual Education Plan or 504 Plan)

    When the MET determines eligibility they decide two things:

  • The team decides whether the student has a qualifying disability.
  • The team decides whether the student needs special education (individual instruction in addition to regular classroom instruction).

  • If the child has both a disability and needs special education the team will create an IEP for that child that addresses all the child’s needs to be successful in the school.

    If a child has a disability but does not need special education, the team may develop a 504 plan.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What’s an IEP?

    An IEP will identify the present levels of academic achievement and functional performance of a child, come up with goals to address any identified needs, identify services necessary to achieve the goals and arrange for accommodations to the regular educational curriculum to help the child be successful in her/his regular classroom.

    What’s a 504 plan?

    If a child does not need any individualized instruction in addition to the regular educational classroom, the team will develop accommodations and services that may be necessary to help the child succeed in the regular classroom alongside her/his peers. Again, this is only an overview. The system has lots of exceptions and special procedures required by the state. The Special Education Coordinator strongly believes that the more information a parent has about the process the better, so please do not hesitate to call if you’d like more information.

    “Specific learning disability refers to basic psychological processing disorders that significantly impact the development of accurate and/or fluent basic reading, math, and/or writing skills. These basic psychological processing disorders (e.g., phonological awareness, auditory memory span, working memory, rapid automatized naming, processing speed, etc.) are neurobiological in origin. They are unexpected in relation to the person’s other cognitive, verbal, and academic abilities. The failure to progress in a basic academic skill area(s) (reading, writing, and/or math) is not due primarily to generalized learning failure, insufficient motivation, limited educational opportunities, cultural difference, and/or sociolinguistic experiences” (Mather & Gerner, 2009).

    Specific learning disabilities (SLD) are identified by a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation and comprehensive review of information that is conducted by a Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team (MET). The MET considers many sources of information including (but not limited to) educational background, developmental history, cultural/language background, present levels of educational performance, response to intervention, psychometric test data, behavioral profile, remediation history, and learning-related strengths and weaknesses (cognitive/academic/behavioral). In reaching a specific learning disability eligibility decision, several methods are considered including a pattern of strengths and weaknesses (PSW), response to intervention (RTI), the possibility of a severe discrepancy between abilities and/or achievement skills, and a child’s behavioral characteristics. Please note that a single “method” such as “severe discrepancy” cannot and should not be used as the sole criterion to identify SLD. The decision must be based on multiple sources of information (Gerner, 2018).

    Flagstaff Junior Academy does not discriminate based on gender, race, or disability. If you would like to read FJA’s policies on 504 plans, please click here.