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Special Education and Disabilities

Welcome to FindLaw's Special Education and Disabilities section. Some students require special accommodations at school, and laws have been passed to ensure students get the access and assistance they need. Ensuring these laws are followed is the responsibility of school officials. This sections provides articles and resources to help you with a wide variety of special education topics -- including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), eligibility for IDEA services, and individualized education plans (IEP's). Also included are summaries of state laws on special education and disability access, tips on how to prepare for IEP meetings, and more.

Overview of Special Education Laws

All special education laws are derived from the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which determines how state agencies provide special education and other services to children with disabilities. Central to this law is the concept of providing a "Free Appropriate Public Education" (FAPE) with the goals of preparing disabled children for additional employment and independent living. The law, applicable to children aged three to 21, provides individualized educational programs.

The parents of disabled children also have certain rights under IDEA, including the right to review all school records, the right to be an equal member of the IEP team, and to suggest an alternative to the IEP when necessary.

Children with the following conditions are entitled to rights under IDEA:

  • Mental retardation
  • Deafness
  • Blindness
  • Speech impairment
  • Autism
  • Serious emotional distress
  • Brain injury
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Specific learning disability (such as dyslexia)
  • Other health impairment (subject to approval)

Individualized Education Plans (IEP)

Each child who qualifies for special accommodations under the law is entitled to an IEP. This plan details the child's performance level, how his or her disability affects academic performance, and any accommodations that must be provided for the student. The IEP team is created to come up with this plan, which meets annually to discuss any changes that may need to be made. The IEP team must include at least one of the student's regular classroom teacher, a special education teacher, a psychologist or someone who can determine the educational implications of the evaluation, an administrator, and a qualified representative of the local education agency. The student's parents also may be part of the team.

IDEA & ADA Violations

Any agency, such as a school district, that fails to provide FAPE support to eligible students risks losing their federal funding. Complaints by parents and students are heard by the state education authority, which must hold an impartial meeting about the complaint. Parents also may appeal the decision to another state agency if not satisfied with the outcome. If the complaint involves an alleged breach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it should be addressed to the federal Department of Education.

Learn more about special education and disabilities by clicking on the links below.