Special Education Law (IDEA) and Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) Overview
LEGAL OVERVIEW of IDEA (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act)
All children have a right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). This right is guaranteed by federal and state laws.
In 1975, Public Law 94-142, The Education for all Handicapped Children Act, was signed into law to insure that the educational rights of children with special needs were protected and that their education was provided in a way that met their needs. In 1990, this act was amended and renamed the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. In 1997, the IDEA was reauthorized to further strengthen the roles of parents, students and educators in the education process.
IDEA provides the rules or guidelines for special education services throughout the United States.
IDEA has the following major components, which are the landmark principles of special education:
Zero-reject: This component prohibits schools from excluding any child from education because he or she has a disability.
Non-discriminatory evaluation: Fair testing of children is required, with tests that are administered and scored in an unbiased way.
Free, appropriate, individualized education: This is the landmark principle of IDEA, requiring a child's education to be designed to his or her needs. The Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is the document that spells out those needs into a program of services.
Least restrictive educational placement (LRE): To the greatest extent possible, children with disabilities are required to be educated with their peers without disabilities.
Procedural due process: Parents must be given the opportunity to consent or object to their children's education, referral, assessment, program, or placement.
Parent participation: Parents may participate as full partners and have full knowledge of their child's education program.
In a 1997 study of special education in Connecticut, the Commissioner of Education recommended:
- All students should be provided with alternative or specialized instruction and adequate resources before being labeled disabled.
- All new teachers should be trained to teach children with a variety of learning needs and elementary school teachers should know how to teach reading to children with different learning needs.
- There should be a new focus on reading instruction for all students.
- There should be greater use of specialized instruction without identifying students as requiring special education.
Rehabilition Act (Section 504)
"Section 504" refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and to the amendments to the act since 1973. Section 504 states that no individual with a disability shall be:"excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." For children with disabilities, the most important regulations for Section 504 concern access and reasonable accommodation.
To be eligible for protection under Subpart A of Section 504, an individual must meet the definition applying to any person with a physical or mental impairment substantially limiting one or more life activities such as walking, breathing, speaking, hearing, seeing, learning, performing manual tasks, or caring for oneself. This law does not require a written individualized education program document but it does require a plan for reasonable accommodation
Subpart C of Section 504 requires a program receiving federal funds to operate in physical facilities accessible to and usable by people with physical and/or sensory disabilities.
Children who may benefit from Section 504 may have chronic conditions such as epilepsy, asthma, diabetes, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and do not qualify under the IDEA.
This law is enforced by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights and each school district with more than 15 employees is responsible for assuring compliance with Section 504.