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Students With Disabilities: Education Laws

Education is a fundamental right for all students, including those with special needs. U.S. laws ensure students with disabilities have a free appropriate public education (FAPE) tailored to their individual needs. These laws cover the spectrum beginning in early education and assisting all the way to transition services and post-high school opportunities.

Students with disabilities have certain rights when it comes to their education. The federal government ensures the rights of students and their families. They do this through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The act essentially governs how states and agencies may provide early intervention. It governs the allocation of education services and related support to children with disabilities.

This section provides an overview of education service and support laws. This section has articles on private education and reimbursement. It also discusses Section 504 accommodations in schools and IEP requirements. This article also contains general information available on the placement of disabled children.

An Overview of Education Services and Support Laws

The foundation of special education law began with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. It is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This Act guarantees free, appropriate education for students with disabilities. The Act covers two sections: Part B, for kids aged three to 21; and Part C, for infants and toddlers.

This law strongly emphasizes the least restrictive environment (LRE). This means students should be educated with non-disabled peers as much as possible. It requires schools to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student. IEPs help meet the individual needs of each student.

Parents, teachers, and staff discuss a student's unique educational needs in an IEP or Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting. The CSE also sets yearly goals. 

Parents also have the right to request an independent educational evaluation (IEE). They can do this if they disagree with the school's evaluation. For high school students, the IEP must include transition services. These services help prepare the student for life after high school. These services must be offered to the student by age 16. This could involve vocational training, internships, or courses at a community college.

The U.S. Code in Title 20, Chapter 33 codifies IDEA. IDEA guarantees students a free appropriate public education (FAPE). This prepares students for further education, employment, and independent living. FAPE guarantees children with disabilities from age three to 21 an educational program. 

Each student with a disability receives an individualized education program. This IEP is designed to meet their unique needs. It helps provide them access to the general curriculum for their grade-level standards. The state creates these curriculum standards.

Parents have the right to be informed of their procedural safeguards and to review educational records. They are equal IEP team members who must have their concerns heard. Parents can suggest alternative IEPs, request hearings, and ask for mediation and due process for their concerns. They are entitled to be a part of all aspects of their child's education.

Students are eligible for IDEA protection if they are within the applicable ages and diagnosed with any of the following:

  • Autism
  • Deafness
  • Deaf-blindness
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disability
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Speech-language impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Specific learning disability (SLD) such as dyslexia
  • Other health impairments subject to approval

The Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is another important act. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is also crucial for disabled students. These are civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. IDEA applies to public schools and generally to private schools where disabled children have been placed. Also, the ADA and Section 504 extend to entities that receive federal funding. This can include private schools.

The ADA plays a critical role in enhancing the educational experience for students with disabilities. The ADA provides wide-ranging protections. Under the ADA, schools must make reasonable accommodations. Read on to learn more about these changes.

504 Accommodations in Schools

Not all students are disabled to the extent necessary to qualify for protection under IDEA. These students aren't without recourse, however. Many qualify for protection under Section 504. This Act bars discrimination against people with disabilities. The term "504 accommodations" generally refers to simple, inexpensive changes. The school must make these changes to allow students with disabilities equal access to education.

While these students are not entitled to receive an IEP, as is the case with those who qualify for IDEA protection, there are many actions schools must take that can significantly benefit students with disabilities. Examples of 504 accommodations include:

  • Allowing wheelchair users to leave class early to get to their next class
  • Providing large-print books to students with visual impairment
  • Allowing extra time on tests for those with learning disabilities
  • Providing students with low-distraction work areas
  • Preparing students for upcoming changes in their routine
  • Allowing hyperactive students to keep a small object to manipulate quietly

Section 504 requires a school district to provide these accommodations and modifications. These changes allow disabled students access to the same opportunities as their peers. This could include changes to the physical layout of the classroom. It could mean access to assistive technology or alterations in how tests are administered to the student, such as receiving extra time.

Getting Legal Help

Understanding these laws is vital for parents, students, and educators. The U.S. Department of Education offers resources to help navigate the complex world of special education programs, state laws, and the rights of students with disabilities.

Remember, education is a fundamental right. Everyone deserves the support they need to succeed in their school year and beyond. Knowledge of these laws empowers students and their families to advocate for their needs and ensures a more inclusive and equitable education system for all.

A lawyer can help with your case. They can review your eligibility for special education services. They can also help with the special education process and due process hearings if necessary. They can fight for your child's educational rights under federal law.

Talk to an education attorney today.

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