Special Needs Education

Special Educational Services

For Children with Exceptional Spirits and Challenges...

Welcome to the Rural Virtual Academy Special Education and Student Services

This page contains information about special education and interventions offered, newsletters, and upcoming events.

Should you ever have concerns about your child's academic, behavior, or socioemotional functioning, please do not hesitate to reach out to any member on our special education team.  

ALL children can learn.  It is our job to help your child find the right avenues and provide the needed supports for learning to occur.

Special education services are available to those students who have been determined to meet eligibility criteria in one of the following areas:   

  • Specific Learning Disability

  • Emotional Behavioral Disability

  • Autism

  • Other Health Impairment

  • Visual Impairment

  • Intellectual Disability

  • Hearing Impairment

  • Significant Developmental Delay

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

  • Speech/Language Impairment

  • Orthopedic Impairment

Students that require special education are those with a documented disability that prevents them from being successful within the general education setting and structure without specific supports.  The level of need varies for each student and once qualified for support, an individualized education plan (IEP) is developed to detail and document the support provided.

The RVA has a special education team that can evaluate students for suspected disabilities, re-evaluate students that have already been identified (at least every three years as mandated by law), and provide support and resources for struggling students.  Any student with an IEP is paired with a special education teacher who assists the home educator in providing accommodations/modifications to the curriculum.  The special education teacher can also assist with selecting specific curriculum and interventions that target the student's area(s) of struggle.  Special education students that are enrolled in the RVA also have access to occupational therapy and speech/language therapy, if deemed needed as part of their IEP.  The special education team works closely with the parent educator and associated therapists to ensure that the student's IEP is being followed and that the student is making appropriate progress with their education.

Qualification for special education provides RVA staff much more flexibility with curricular expectations, schedules/timelines, and alternate means of completing assignments and tests.  Since each plan is tailored to the individual child and their needs, the education is truly designed for the benefit of the child.


Special education is not the easy way out.  It does not mean that there is no accountability nor expectations for your child.  Your child will continue to be challenged but it will be with the understanding that they are a unique learner who may retrieve, process, store, and respond to information differently.  A qualification of special education does not mean that your child is not smart, creative, or motivated.  It is merely a means of obtaining support in an area of need.  It might mean more repetition, visuals, manipulatives, therapy, or alternate curriculum but it does not mean you or your child have failed.   

** Great Resource - Introduction to Special Education from DPI


A referral for special education starts the process of evaluating your child for a disability.  A team (IEP Team) is then put together to review any available information and determine if additional information is needed.  With your written consent, an evaluation (often including assessments) is conducted to determine eligibility for special education.  The IEP team, which includes professionals, including the parents and child (if appropriate), meet to discuss evaluation results and eligibility determination.  

If the child qualifies for special education, an individualized education plan (IEP) will be developed to detail and document the child's needs.  After the IEP is developed, the parent must again provide written consent for services to start.

Special education services can be revoked by a parent at any point in time.

The Child Study Form helps teachers collect information about a child they have concerns about.  It can be a useful tool to document what supports the child has needed and for detailing what the area of difficulty is.

The Pre-Referral Process document illustrates how RVA staff utilize existing data to identify struggling students that may be in need of further supports and services.  This is part of our RtI system of helping all students achieve.  For more information about RtI and academic screening, see the "Academic Screening and RtI" page at left.


Interventions provide direct, explicit instruction directed at increasing skills by involving the student.  Interventions include methods such as changing the instruction and/or providing additional instruction to focus on each area of academic concern.  Interventions are standards-based and should support skills needed to succeed in a universal curriculum.  At the Rural Virtual Academy, we offer various interventions that are specific to what your child needs.


Students in special education are identified as having a disability in any of the following areas:

  • Specific Learning Disability: The areas that a child can be identified for a specific learning disability are: basic reading, reading comprehension, reading fluency, math calculation, math reasoning, written expression, oral expression, and listening comprehension) * See further information about SLD below.

  • Emotional Behavioral Disability

  • Autism

  • Other Health Impairment

  • Visual Impairment

  • Intellectual Disability

  • Hearing Impairment

  • Significant Developmental Delay

  • Traumatic Brain Injury

  • Speech/Language Impairment

  • Orthopedic Impairment


The RVA offers speech/language therapy from our own speech pathologist along with virtual occupational therapy, and virtual physical therapy for students that are determined to need related services in order to benefit from special education.  For more information about virtual therapy, please reference the following link:  


Our Special
Education Team

Sam Penry
RVA Director of Special Education
& Student Services

Dawn Meissner
RVA School Psychologist

Jill Chasteen
Special Education Teacher

Leatha Hopperdietzel
Special Education Teacher

Pam Beron
Special Education Teacher

Melanie Ellenbecker
Special Education Teacher

Lindsay Ferry
Special Education Teacher

Kelly Williams
Special Education Teacher

Connie Hurley-Pronley
Speech & Language Pathologist



Cute Girl


What is an IEP?

An IEP stands for an Individualized Education Plan that is developed by a team of experts (including parents) that are knowledgable about the child.  In order for a child to have an IEP, an evaluation must take place to determine that the child is eligible for special education supports in one of the disability areas.  Following the initial determination of eligibility for special education, the IEP is developed within 30 days.  This plan details the support the child needs in order to be successful in school.  Part of having an IEP is working toward goals to track gains in the areas of struggle.  These goals are assessed quarterly and the IEP is updated at least annually.  An IEP is always a fluid document that can be changed as needs change.  Before an initial IEP is put into place, parents need to provide consent for their child to receive the services outlined in the document.


The services students receive will depend on the needs of the child.  Special Education services:

  • Accommodations and Modifications to Curriculum

  • Speech and Language therapy

  • Occupational Therapy

  • Physical Therapy

  • Functional Behavior Plans

  • Testing Accommodations

These services will be documented in the child's IEP.  Services may be delivered differently in the RVA than they might otherwise be in a traditional, brick and mortar school setting.  In the RVA, special education supports and services are most often provided by a special education teacher that works with the home educator to implement and modify curriculum to meet the child's needs.  Teletherapy (virtual therapy) is utilized for students that have speech/language and occupational needs, when it is a format that is appropriate for the child. 

For evaluations, the RVA school psychologist may need to meet with the child face-to-face, for which arrangements can be made.  The school psychologist can also be a resource to parents to ensure that the supports and services their child receives through the RVA are beneficial and appropriate.

Academic Screening and RTI

The Rural Virtual Academy assesses each student with the DORA (reading) and ADAM (math) to help identify students who may be struggling as well as to measure student and school progress.  Students that score below the average range on these assessments are then more closely monitored to ensure they are making academic progress.  A student that consistently scores below grade level expectations may be provided additional interventions and supports to assist with academic gains.  Students that are receiving intervention services may have their progress monitored with short AIMSWeb assessments.


AIMSWeb provides parents and staff a way to observe growth throughout the school year to ensure that an intervention is working well for a student.  This may be utilized as part of a referral for special education or proceeding a referral for special education.  For more information about AIMSWeb, visit the following site:  http://www.aimsweb.com

Response to Intervention (RtI)

RtI is for ALL children and ALL educators. It is a process for achieving higher levels of academic and behavioral success for all students. The three essential elements of high quality instruction, balanced assessment and collaboration interact within a multi-level system of support to provide structures that increase the potential for achievement.  

RtI implementation will contribute to increased instructional quality, equitable access to high-quality and effective programming, and will assist with the identification and support of learners with varied abilities and needs.  Culturally responsive practices are central to an effective RtI system and are evident within each of the essential elements. In a multi-level system of support, schools employ these elements of RtI at varying levels of intensity, based upon student responsiveness to instruction and intervention.

Section 504 Plans

Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal funding.  Section 504 regulations require a school district to provide a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district's jurisdiction, regardless of the nature of the disability.  A student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment. 

Section 504 Plans are available to students with a physical or mental disability which substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.  A major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.   

Section 504 Plans differ from special education eligibility in the amount of services and support the student has access to.  It may also be the case that a student with a Section 504 Plan retains their RVA general education teacher.

General Procedures for Section 504 Evaluations:

Teachers, parents, administrators, and others may make referrals or express their concerns to a counselor, psychologist, nurse or building principal if they feel a student’s learning is being limited by either a mental or physical impairment.

▪ The counselor, psychologist, nurse or principal may research the case and either:  attempt to address the student’s needs through some type of initial intervention, or gather necessary records and information and take the case to a pre-referral meeting.
▪ The pre-referral meeting discusses the situation, looks at any previous interventions and either:  recommends a formal special education referral or, recommends non-special education referral and considers 504.
▪  If the group determines that a 504 evaluation is warranted the pre-referral group designates a case manager who:
      ▪     Completes a section 504/non-special education referral.
      ▪     Notifies parent of referral and sends copy of referral and 504 parent/student rights to parents.
      ▪     Reviews and utilizes any previous evaluations or medical diagnosis, or if none available;
      ▪     Arranges for any necessary assessments to determine 504 eligibility.
▪ If an IEP evaluation has been conducted; it is likely that further evaluation will not be needed.  In this event, a copy of the IEP evaluation, and the parent permission for that evaluation, is added to the student’s 504 file.  If it is determined that further evaluation is needed, the parent will be asked to give permission.  If permission is denied, review parent rights, and contact the District 504 Coordinator.  Notes may be kept of conversations; the parent may have a copy if requested.
▪ When evaluation is completed, a notice is sent to the parent; a 504 team meeting is held to discuss the evaluation results and determine 504 eligibility.  The team decision is documented.  Notes of the meeting are kept; the parent may have a copy if requested.  If the student is determined to be ineligible for 504 protections, the parent is notified and sent a copy of the parent rights.
▪  If the student is eligible for 504 protections, the Section 504 Accommodation Plan is developed at the meeting. Implementation begins immediately.
▪ At least annually the 504 Accommodation Plan is reviewed; a notice of the meeting is sent to parents.  Notes of the meeting are kept; the parent may have a copy if requested.  A new 504 Accommodation Plan is developed.  A copy of the parent rights is given to the parent.
▪ At least every three years, or whenever a change in placement is considered, a re-evaluation is conducted.  The parent is notified of this re-evaluation, and a meeting is held to discuss results.
▪ The 504 Accommodation Plan is kept in the Student Cumulative folder.* A copy is placed in the 504 file, with all other 504 documentation.  A copy of the 504 Accommodation Plan is sent to District 504 Coordinator. 

To request an evaluation for a Section 504 Plan or for further questions about Section 504, contact Sam Penry, RVA School Psychologist (sam.penry@ruralvirtual.org), or Jessica Martin, RVA Director of Special Education and Student Services (jessica.martin@ruralvirtual.org). 

Consortium District Information

The following school districts are part of the RVA consortium: Abbotsford, Algoma, Antigo, Auburndale, Colby, Gilman, Medford, Mosinee, Pittsville, Prentice, Rib Lake, Spencer, Stratford, Tomah, and White Lake. Each school year, this list expands! This means that students in these districts do not need to open enroll to participate in the RVA. Most procedures are exactly the same from a parent/student perspective. However, students who are suspected of having a disability as well as those already identified as students' with disabilities will work more closely with their resident district.

Roles and Expectations

As a member of the RVA consortium, the resident/consortium district is responsible for special education evaluations, eligibility determinations, placement decisions, and IEP development and revision.  The staff at the RVA will work collaboratively with the district to provide information about the student’s progress with the RVA.  RVA staff can be of assistance in making decisions for eligibility determination, placement, and IEP goals.  Furthermore, RVA staff can attend IEP and evaluation meetings, either by phone conference, virtually, or possibly in person.

Each student in the RVA is assigned a Wisconsin DPI licensed teacher.  Likewise, those RVA students with special needs benefit from having the expertise of certified special education instructors working side-by-side with them, their parents, and in conjunction with the local IEP team.  The RVA teacher is responsible for monitoring the student’s progress with the RVA curriculum and expectations.  

If a child is already identified as a student with a disability, they are paired with an RVA special education teacher who will work on the goals established in the student’s IEP.  If the student undergoes an initial evaluation for special education conducted by resident/consortium district, the student’s RVA general education teacher would likely be a part of the IEP team but upon qualifying for special education, the student would be transferred to an RVA special education teacher that could assist the student in working toward their IEP goals.  Our staff will assist the resident/consortium district in setting goals that are fitting for the student’s educational experience with the RVA.

Special Considerations for SLD Evaluations

If a child is referred for an initial evaluation for a suspected learning disability, the evaluation process will be somewhat different than other suspected impairments due to the changes in state law regarding specific learning disability determinations.

#1. The resident/consortium district will handle the referral process, standardized academic testing, and all associated special education paperwork while the RVA will be responsible for the interventions and progress monitoring.  Since the RtI process is within the scope of general education, it falls on the RVA to carry out these tasks as part of the evaluation process.  

#2. RVA general education teachers will work with the home educator to implement research-based interventions as well as collect weekly progress monitoring data at the student’s grade level to assist in determining eligibility for special education for SLD.  The RVA has established checklists for each intervention and will conduct observations of the interventions in progress to ensure that they are being implemented with fidelity.  Utilizing virtual technology, we encourage the consortium district to also be part of this process.

#3. Communication between the RVA and the consortium district will be imperative to the success of these evaluation procedures.  The RVA, consortium district, and home educator will need to be well-connected throughout the evaluation for the best outcome. 

* Although this is a complex scenario, staff at the RVA want to do everything we can to help these referrals and evaluations run smoothly for the consortium district as well as for the struggling student and their family.



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