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Special Education Laws

Disabled students have certain rights when it comes to their education. The federal government ensures the rights of disabled students and their families’ protection through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The act essentially governs how states and agencies may provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. This section provides an overview of special education laws. There are articles on private special education and reimbursement, 504 accommodations in schools and IEP requirements. There is also information generally on the process of placing kids with disabilities in school. Choose from the list of titles below to learn more.

An Overview of Special Ed Law

The federal government protects the right to education for disabled students and their families through a law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), found in the U.S. Code in Title 20, Chapter 33. This law determines how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities from birth to age twenty-six.

IDEA guarantees students a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living. FAPE guarantees disabled children from three to twenty-one an educational program individualized to the specific child, designed to meet their unique needs, that provides access to the general curriculum at the grade-level standards established by the state.

Parents have the right to be informed of procedural safeguards, review educational records, be equal members on the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team, and to have concerns heard. Parents can suggest alternative IEPs, request hearings, mediation, and due process for their concerns, and 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 are:

  • mentally retarded
  • hearing impaired or deaf
  • speech or language impaired
  • visually impaired or blind
  • seriously emotionally disturbed
  • autistic
  • suffering from traumatic brain injury
  • suffering from a specified learning disability, or
  • suffering from another health impairment.

504 Accommodations in Schools

Not all of those who face special challenges when seeking an education are disabled to the extent necessary to qualify for protection under IDEA. These students aren't without recourse though; many qualify for protection under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973, which bans discrimination against people with disabilities. The term "504 accommodations" generally refers to simple, inexpensive changes a school must make 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 disabled students. Examples of 504 accommodations include:

  • allowing a wheelchair-bound student to leave class early to get to their next class
  • providing large-print books to visually impaired students
  • 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