TregoED Blog

Ensuring Defensible Decisions in Special Education Environments… the Age of the Squeaky Wheel


In my experience, Special Education Meetings are often met with dread and filled with emotions Life as a Special Education Administrator involves tough decision-making on contentious issues:  student placement, types of support, programs, etc.  These decisions often involve a difference of opinions about what is necessary and best for the student.  Often, the squeaky wheel does get the grease – whether or not the wheel needs it.  Sometimes it seems expedient to give in rather than to defend decisions in the face of threats or deep pockets.

How one District Succeeds

The fact is, the decisions most likely to be challenged are the very ones that require clear rationale, accurate data, and faultless logic.  Too often, important decisions are made with the best of intentions, but less than substantive discussion.  The Iredell-Statesville (NC) School District’s Special Education Department staff, led by Executive Director Alicia Tate, Ph.D., has found that using a proven methodology ensures that decisions are clear sighted, thorough and defensible.

The department’s strategy involves these three key steps:

  • Establish criteria and priorities
  • Consider a range of options
  • Assess possible risks

Developing Sound Rationale

Dr. Tate’s staff recently applied this methodology in a difficult and emotional decision around selecting the most appropriate placement option for a student with disabilities.   Using this approach, they were able to demonstrate that the decision was thoroughly considered and the rationale was sound.  The visible framework for the decision allowed for clear communication on “how” the decision was made and helped build understanding for those who may not have agreed with it.

How does your Special Education Department staff make tough, consensus-based decisions on how best to serve students with disabilities?

Interested in learning more about the strategic processes used by the Iredell-Statesville schools?  Visit