Special Education

The Huntsville City Schools’ Special Education Services Department provides a wide range of services and programs to meet the needs of students eligible for Special Education services.              

Special Education Services includes qualified Special Education Teachers, Speech/Language Pathologists, Nurses, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Autism Specialists, Behavior Intervention Specialist, other related services providers, and Instructional Assistants.  Together we plan and provide educational programs for students with disabilities in partnership with general education staff, administrators and parents.

We nurture individuals, who value themselves and others and provide an educational foundation that enables students to have the ability to think, communicate, create and apply their unique learning experiences throughout their lifetime. We believe that parents are a valuable and essential part of the educational process and that their aspirations for and insights about their child’s program are an integral component as we plan together for their child’s educational success.

Need help?

  • Parent Help Line: (256) 963-9793
    (Operating hours coincide with the Huntsville City Schools calendar for students.)
  • State Department of Education (Special Education)
  • Child Find: You may contact the Huntsville City Schools Special Education Department at (256) 963-9793 for children ages 3 to 21. For information about Child Find, please see the Child Find tab below under the Special Education Mandates heading.

Dr. Elizabeth Long
Director of Special Education
Office: 256-963-9789
Location: Chapman Elementary

Office Hours: Mon-Fri | 8AM-4PM (Regular)
Office Fax: 256-428-6871
View Department Staff Listing

General Information
Mission, Vision, & Belief Statement


Our vision is to ensure that every student with special needs is prepared for maximum independence in learning and living.


Our mission is to identify students who meet the federal and state criteria as a student with a disability and to provide services that empower them to become active members of society based on their individual strengths and abilities.  We are committed to helping students become part of a global technological society through an educational process characterized by effective instruction, individualized learning, and superior personal achievement.

We Believe

  • Educational outcomes for students with disabilities replace procedural compliance as our primary focus.
  • Low expectations of the past are replaced with early intervention, individualized services, parent empowerment, and accountability for results.
  • Students are supported in the least restrictive environment.
  • Access to general education opportunities is the right of every student.
  • Participation and progress in the general curriculum is facilitated with the use of research-based academic, social, and positive behavioral supports.
What is Special Education?

Special education is simply specially designed instruction, provided at no cost to parents, aimed at meeting the unique needs of entitled students.  This requires school personnel to adapt the content, methodology, or delivery of instruction according to the functional abilities of a given student.  Although some students are provided alternate curriculum and specialized teaching methods, most receive special designed instruction in the form of adjustments in the frequency, intensity, or duration of instruction, the amount of content covered, the explicitness of instruction, modifications or adaptations to instructional materials, the frequency of feedback, and/or prescribed motivational or reinforcement strategies.

Disability Areas for Special Education in Alabama
  • Autism
  • Deaf-Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Emotional Disability
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Intellectual Disability
  • Multiple Disability
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Other Health Impairment
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Visual Impairment
Related Services

Related services are developmental, corrective, and other supports or services that are necessary for an entitled child to incur benefit from special education services.  These may include:

  • Assistive Technology
  • Audiological Services
  • Counseling Services
  • Hearing Impaired Services
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Orientation and Mobility Services
  • Physical Therapy
  • School Health Services
  • School Social Work Services
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA requires state and local education agencies that receive federal funding to provide all students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate education (FAPE).  School districts must identify, locate and evaluate students with disabilities to determine whether they are eligible for special education services.  When students are entitled to special education, districts must develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) to meet their unique needs.  In implementing a student’s IEP, districts are obligated to educate entitled students within their least restrictive environment (LRE) or alongside typical peers to the maximum extent appropriate.

Parental Referrals

Parents who suspect that their child may be in need of additional services should confer with their child's teacher regarding their concerns and request a referral to the Problem-Solving Team (PST). If the child continues to exhibit difficulties after exhausting services and modifications in the general education program, the Problem-Solving Team (PST) and/or parents may request an assessment to determine eligibility for special education services.

Service Options

The Special Education program in the Huntsville City Schools serves students from three through twenty-one years of age. Instructional and support services are delivered by special education teachers, school psychometrist, speech language pathologists, behavior intervention specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and paraprofessionals. In compliance with federal and state law, students with disabilities are served in the least restrictive environment to the maximum extent possible. All special education students at all district schools participate as appropriate in general education classrooms. Special education services include individualized specially-designed instruction in academic skills, adaptive skills (self-help; self-advocacy, community, independent living etc.), communication and language skills, motor skills, social skills, behavior and vocational skills. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed at least annually for each special education student, and goals and objectives (where appropriate) are written based upon formal and informal testing and on-going quantitative data.

Special Education Records Notice

Public Notice:  Destruction of Special Education Records

“According to the Alabama Administrative Code r.290-8-9-8 (2) (h) an education agency must retain a copy of records for five (5) years after the termination of the special education program for which they were used. At the end of the five (5) year retention period, the education agency shall provide written notice to parents to inform them that the special education records are no longer needed and will be destroyed.”

This serves as written notice to parents and former students that the destruction of special education and gifted records for students, regardless of age, who have not received special education or gifted services in the Huntsville City School system for five (5) or more years, will take place after June 21, 2019.  Legal guardian, or former student if age 19 or older, must contact Special Education Services to arrange pick up of records.  Records MUST be picked up prior to June 21, 2019.  Huntsville City Schools Special Education Services is located at 200 White Street, Huntsville, AL 35801 (256) 428-6872. 

Special Olympics

The Special Olympics mission remains as vital today as it did when the movement was founded in 1968. Through the power of sport, Special Olympics strives to create a better world by fostering the acceptance and inclusion of all people. It also creates opportunities for families, community members, local leaders, businesses, law enforcement, celebrities, dignitaries and others to band together to change attitudes and support athletes.

Huntsville City Schools hosts an annual Track & Field Event for all qualifying students. The event is held at Milton Frank Stadium and includes:

  • Shot Put
  • Tennis Ball Throw
  • Softball Throw
  • Standing Long Jump
  • Running Long Jump
  • 4x100 Meter Rely
  • 10 Meter Walk/Wheelchair
  • 25 Meter Walk/Dash
  • 200 Meter Run
  • 100 Meter Run
  • 50 Meter Dash

Special Olympics Athlete Oath

Let me win.
But if I cannot win,
let me be brave in the attempt.

Special Education Mandates
Child Find
What is Child Find?

Parents or professionals in the greater Madison County area who suspect that a child may have a disability may request a free special education evaluation through their local school district’s Child Find process.

How Does Child Find Work?

Parents may request the evaluation by contacting the special education department of their school system in Huntsville City, Madison City, or Madison County. Children ages birth to age 21 are eligible, including students in private schools and home schools, as well as homeless or migrant children.

More Information:

For more information about Child Find, please contact Dr. Elizabeth Long, Director of Special Education for Huntsville City Schools - 256-428-6872

Early Intervention Services:

Services for children ages birth to age 3 are identified through the Early Intervention Program.  For information about these services, contact Wendy Pittard at 256-650-1727 or Jackie Criswell at 256-650-1723.  You can also contact the toll-free number 1-800-543-3098.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Free means at no cost to parents.  Appropriateness is based on: (a) compliance with specific procedural requirements regarding the development/implementation of IEPs and 9b) whether the IEP is “reasonably calculated” to confer “educational benefits.”

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Presumes that student will be in the general classroom, with supports, from the outset, unless it is determined that the child cannot benefit from the general curriculum.

To the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities are provided the opportunity to be educated with age-appropriate non-disabled peers and receive all necessary supports and services to benefit from their educational program.

All services are provided in the Least Restrictive Environment, usually at the student’s home school in collaboration with the general education program.  However, some services and programs are only available at specified schools throughout the District and may require enrollment at a designated site. 

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

An Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is a written document, developed in collaboration between educators and parents, that describes the entitled child’s abilities and needs, and explains the placement and services that will be provided to meet the child’s unique needs.

After receiving parent consent, qualified staff will conduct an assessment. An Individualized Educational Planning team, which includes parent participation, will meet to review the assessment information, determine eligibility, develop appropriate educational goals and objectives and identify the services that are needed to address the goals and objectives.  The Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is reviewed at least annually with the parent and team members.

Due Process

Procedures to guarantee parent involvement and challenge the school system when parents disapprove of decisions.


Improving educational results and functional outcomes for students with disabilities through a systematic approach to progress monitoring, intervention design and implementation, and data-based decision making.

Program Options
Early Childhood Programming

The early childhood program is intended to provide all students in the program with a high quality comprehensive curriculum, which is adapted to meet the individual needs of both the special education students, and their general education peers. Preschool students learn best through meaningful play experiences. The program utilizes instructional practices that promote developmentally appropriate learning centers as well as small and large instructional groups.

All students involved in the program gain from their interactions with peers. The general education students, as well as their special education peers, learn, grow and play side-by-side in a caring and nurturing environment. The program provides a caring and supportive environment where all students are treated as equals and are provided with the same opportunities to learn and play with each other. Students will learn to respect and value all people.

Resource Program (Available K-12)

Programming consists of supplemental instruction up to 45 minutes daily per goal area. Instruction follows grade level benchmarks with some accommodations and modifications to the general education curriculum. The focus of the program is to support academic, independence or social skills within the grade level curriculum and provide direct instruction in goal areas. Instruction will be provided to entitled individuals in general and/or special education classrooms.

Academic Skills Program (Available K-12)

Programming consists of moderate supplemental instruction beyond 60 minutes in at least one goal area. Instruction may include modified or alternate grade level benchmarks. The program will focus on improving academic performance, particularly in the areas of reading, writing and mathematics, personal independence and self-advocacy skills, and/or social skills that are not addressed in the grade level curriculum. Instruction may occur in the general education or special education setting, and consist of large group, small group or one-to-one student teacher interactions.

Functional Skills Program (Available var. Elementary, Middle, & All High Schools)

Programing consists of significant supplemental instruction beyond 60 minutes in multiple goal areas. Instruction typically includes alternative grade level benchmarks and the focus of the program is to improve communication, daily living or independence skills. Most instruction is provided in the special education classroom with social activities and some academic activities in the general setting.

The functional skills program will help students develop the following skills: general academics, communication, social, life, self-help, community mobility, transition, goal setting and work experience.

Behavioral Skills Program Elementary (SOAR)

Programming consists of a moderate to significant behavior plan with specialized instruction beyond 60 minutes in behavioral goal areas. Behavior instruction typically includes grade level benchmarks and positive behavior skills training that are not explicitly taught in the general education setting. The focus of the program is to improve social skills and decrease problematic behaviors. Instruction is provided special education classroom and during transition time-frame, in both the Special education and regular education classroom.

Programming Skills Program Secondary (LEAP)

Programming consists of a moderate to significant behavior plan with specialized instruction in behavioral goal areas. Behavior instruction typically includes grade level benchmarks and positive behavior skills training that are not explicitly taught in the general education setting. The focus of the program is to improve social skills, self-advocacy skills, independence skills, positive peer and adult relationships and positive decision making; as well as generalizing positive behaviors into the general education setting and community.

High School Transition Program (Project Search)

Project SEARCH originated at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996 as a program to teach career-readiness job skills to young adults with special needs. Locally, Project SEARCH is a partnership between Huntsville Hospital, the ARC of Madison County, Vocational Rehabilitation Services (a division of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation) and Huntsville City Schools.

At Huntsville Hospital, Project SEARCH interns complete three rotations that are 10 weeks each. The ultimate goal of the program is to prepare interns for employment within the hospital or elsewhere in the community.

High School Transition Program

Students with disabilities participate in community-based education to learn the academic, social, and vocational skills necessary for success in today's society. The Transition Program ensures a seamless transition from school to independent adult life for students with disabilities who need continuing employment and agency supports, as well as community and life skills training.  It is our intent, that students, upon exiting the program, will have full or part time employment in a vocation of their choosing.  They will function independently in the community and in the home to the best of their abilities and will contribute positively to their family and to their community.

Home Bound Instruction

Students, ages 3-21, receive specially-designed instruction at home due to medical, physical, emotional, or behavioral needs or students who have been suspended or expelled from their school receive specially-designed instruction as per their IEP team.

Continuum of Services
General Statement

The Huntsville City Schools will provide a full continuum of services and placements for eligible individuals from age 3 to 21, including preschool. The Huntsville City School’s continuum of services will include the placement options found in the sections below.


Indirect services provided by the special education teacher and general education teacher in adjusting the learning environment or modifying instructional methods using specially designed instruction in the general education setting to meet the individual needs of entitled students. The special education teacher is responsible for monitoring the students’ progress and IEP.


Specially designed instruction and content area instruction provided to entitled students by special and general education teachers in partnership to meet course requirements and needs of students in the general education classroom. These services may include:

  1. one teaches, one observes
  2. one teaches, one assists
  3. team teaching
  4. parallel teaching
  5. station teaching.

Specially designed instruction provided to an entitled individual student or to a group of entitled students by a special education teacher in general education classroom. These services are provided simultaneously with the general education course requirements.


Supplementary services in special education environment providing direct specially designed instruction to an individual student with a disability or a group of students with disabilities by a special education teacher providing supplementary instruction that cannot otherwise be provided in regular education setting. These services are provided in an individual or small group setting for a portion of the day supplementing the general education course requirements. The specially designed instruction provided in this setting is in place of the instruction provided in the general education classroom.

Special Class

Direct instruction specially designed for an entitled student or a group of entitled students by a special education teacher to provide instruction which is tied to the general education course requirements but has been modified to meet the needs of the student in self-contained setting; including special schools, home-bound instruction and instruction in hospitals. The student is receiving primary instruction separate from non-disabled peers. The special education teacher and core content teacher will have regular consultation, so the classroom reflects the same course requirements and comparable curriculum.

Special Services

Direct specially designed instruction provided to an individual student or a group of students with disabilities by a certified special education teacher to provide instruction which is tied to the general education setting (including, but not limited to special schools, home instruction and instruction in hospitals and institutions). This means the student is receiving his/her primary instruction in specific goal areas separate from non-disabled peers. This may require the implementation of reverse consultation between the general education and special education teachers. The special education teacher is responsible for core instruction, curriculum and/or other assistance to the student or group of students. Additionally, the special education teacher is responsible for monitoring the student’s progress according to IEP goals and grading.

Placement vs. Location

These placements are service delivery options as opposed to specific settings, locations or classrooms. Entitled students may receive multiple services in either the general education or special education setting.

All placement decisions will be made by a group of individuals, including parents and other persons knowledgeable about the child, evaluation data (i.e. Heartland AEA 11 personnel) and the various placement options. Placement decisions will be made at least annually, and based on the unique needs of the student, as identified in their Individualized Education Program (IEP). Placement decisions will not be based on categorical assumptions or pre-supposed for groups of students with similar needs or characteristics.

Unless the student’s IEP dictates otherwise, the student will be served in the neighborhood school they would attend if they were not disabled.

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