Special Education

The primary three education laws that cover special education and children with disabilities are the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Public schools are required to comply with all three laws. There are certain areas of overlap between the laws, but each law has distinct requirements. For example, in some cases, Title II mandates certain services for students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. A school may have to provide a student with Title II services that are not required under IDEA. Section 504 prohibits disability discrimination against individuals with disabilities by institutions that receive federal financial assistance.

What Does IDEA Mandate?

IDEA gives all families of children with disabilities the right to have their children assessed to determine eligibility for special education and needs, inspect school records related to their child, attend an individualized education program meeting and develop a written plan with the school district, and resolve disputes with the school district by means of an administrative and legal process that is impartial.

School districts across the country are required by law to identify and evaluate children with disabilities. The purpose of this identification is to provide a child with specific programs or services to address his or her special needs.

Enforcement of IDEA

IDEA is administered by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). OSEP is charged with developing federal policy and information on early intervention and education, administering the formula grants and discretionary programs authorized by IDEA, promoting the training of personnel, parents, and volunteers, supporting research to improve results, and coordinating with other agencies for the review of issues arising out of policy, implementation, and program planning.  OSEP also offers leadership and financial support to states and local school districts with the goal of improving results for all disabled individuals through age 21.

What Children Have Disabilities Under IDEA?

Children with disabilities for purposes of IDEA include individuals between three and 22 years of age who have impairments in vision, hearing, or speech, serious emotional disturbances, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, autism, orthopedic impairments, learning disabilities, or other health impairments listed under 20 U.S.C. §1401(3). In addition to having one of these disabilities, your child’s disability must adversely affect his or her educational performance to qualify him or her for special education based on IDEA.

Families should be aware that once a child is considered eligible for special education, he or she must be evaluated again at least every three years. If you are concerned that your child’s disability needs have changed, you can request more frequent or independent assessments under IDEA.

What Will My Special Needs Child Get in an Individualized Education Program?

One of the primary benefits given to special needs children is the Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is designed to meet the particularized needs of a child. The first step towards an IEP is an initial meeting with the school district to determine whether your child has special needs. If it is determined that your child has special needs, you will have a yearly meeting with representatives from your child’s school to develop your child’s educational plan and create a written description of it.

The IEP written plan will describe your child’s current performance in school, the annual goals to meet your child’s special needs, a determination of what services may be necessary to give your child an appropriate education, services for transitioning into adulthood for children that are 16 or over, and due process to get any dispute you have with the school district resolved with the help of a neutral third party.

IDEA also covers teaching methods, teacher qualifications, and other aspects of developing and revising IEPs. Your child’s school district must provide you with a copy of statutes, regulations, and policies related to IDEA and special education.