A Study of Selected Virginia Principals' Knowledge of Special Education Law

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Virginia Tech


With the re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the federal mandates of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the role of the principal has new implications regarding the free and appropriate education of students with disabilities. As a result of the inclusion model of special education instruction being supported as the most effective learning environment for students with disabilities, principals now need to know the definitions of types of disabilities, appropriate placements, how to provide correct feedback for parents and at a minimum, the basics of special education law. The literature review focused on principals’ attitudes and concerns for special education placements and how knowledgeable school principals are with regard to issues of special education law and the possibility of litigation when planning for the free and appropriate education of special education students. Few U.S. studies have focused exclusively on the actual principals’ knowledge of special education law.

This study researched the knowledge of Virginia principals on special education. A geographical random sample of 462 principals from the state of Virginia were asked to complete an on-line survey of 24 hypothetical scenarios based on the following components of IDEA: free and appropriate public education, due process, individualized education plans, least restrictive environment, related services, student discipline and liability for reimbursement of parents.. Experts, practitioners, and researchers in the field reviewed these scenarios.

The survey was e-mailed to the principals from October 1st to November 1st, 2006. A follow up e-mail was sent two weeks after the initial contact as a reminder to complete the survey. From November 2nd to November 15th 10% of the respondents who did not respond were contacted by phone and asked why they did not respond. Out of 49 phone calls, 12 principals responded. The instrument was anonymous and color coded according to the eight Superintendents’ Study Groups across the state of Virginia in order to identify the number of schools that participated.

A total of 236 principals responded resulting in a 51% response rate. Upon completion of the questionnaire principals were provided correct responses.

Using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed on all demographic variables and the principals’ test score. An item analysis of each of the hypothetical scenarios determined the areas of deficiencies in the principals’ knowledge base. Results of this study show that there is no significant difference between principals’ test scores and each of the demographic variables. Seven areas of special education law were tested: free and appropriate public education (FAPE), individualized education plan (IEP), least restrictive environment (LRE), student discipline, related services, due process and liability for reimbursement of parents This study identified two significant areas of weakness: related services and FAPE. The information from this study will be beneficial in determining school districts’ professional development needs and coursework in university education programs that addresses special education law.



school principals, special education, special education law