By Sabria Mills
The phrase “exceptional learner” refers to a student with learning, behavior, sensory, and/or processing deficits.
There are many categories of students with disabilities; however, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004) has identified thirteen primary categories. Students with disabilities who qualify for special education services under IDEA include students with autism, deaf/blindness, specific learning disability, hearing disability, and several other categories.
Special education is an integral part of our educational system and can no longer be ignored in our Islamic intuitions. Across the nation, students with unique learning needs are attending private Islamic schools with minimal support. As parents, it is extremely important to educate yourself with the tools necessary to advocate for your child in a private school setting.
1 – Choose the right Islamic setting for your exceptional learner
Let’s be honest, not all Islamic schools are the best fit for each individual child.
If your child has specific learning needs, it is absolutely essential for you to research and choose the best setting to meet your child’s needs. The average Islamic school does not serve students with exceptional learning needs; however, there are many schools moving in this direction.
It is recommended to identify an Islamic school open to diverse learners and accommodating to their needs.
Identify a school with a progressive school leadership team that is open to the most recent and relevant best practices. Seek a school that has a counselor, interventionist, and/or special education teacher on staff.
As parents, you must be informed and well-prepared to advocate for your exceptional learner, and choosing the right school is an important first step in this process.
2 – Acquire a well-informed advocate within your child’s Islamic school
If you have researched and identified the school that has the necessary support staff in the building, it is important to immediately schedule a meeting with this representative. Your exceptional learner will not only need the understanding of his/her teacher but may also require an additional staff member to advocate on his/her behalf during the school year.
Many times you will find teachers frustrated, confused, and unprepared for an exceptional learner abruptly placed in their classroom without support. Having an open and honest conversation with your child’s potential teacher, identified school representative, and school administrator allows you to initiate a collaborative approach towards supporting your exceptional learner in a traditional learning environment.
3 – Research resources available to support your child
It is important to understand that Islamic schools want to support exceptional learners. However, many of them lack the resources and financial support to achieve this goal. Therefore, it is your responsibility to research available resources for schools to access and utilize.
Contact your local public institutions to identify the available special education services and resources in your area. As a taxpayer, you may have access to available programs, grants, and resources for your child.
As a parent, you should work with a special education advocate or your identified school representative to identify the resources available for your child. If your child hasn’t been identified as needing an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or 504 Plan (for medically-related disabilities), it is important to begin this process using your local public school.
Parents do not have to enroll their children in the public school to have their child identified for special education. Once your child is identified for special education services, your child could be eligible to use available resources and additional funding at his/her Islamic school.
Algozzine, B., Browder, D., Karvonen, M., Test, D., & Wood, W. (2001). Effects of interventions to promote self-determination for individuals with disabilities. Review of Educational Research, 71, 219—277.
Barrie, W., & McDonald, J. (2002). Administrative support for student-led individualized education programs. Remedial and Special Education, 23, 116—122.
About the author:
Sabria Mills is currently serving at Al-Falah Academy as the Response to Intervention Department Chair. Sabria Mills is Georgia certified and experienced in special and elementary education. She is a member of the administrative team at Al-Falah Academy, monitoring the growth and success of students at risk. In addition to her role as an academic interventionist, she has developed a protocol for identifying and monitoring students with exceptional learning needs in the Islamic school environment. She recently founded MEEL (Muslim Educators for Exceptional Learners), which is an organization designed to advocate for exceptional learners and support educators in Islamic schools.