Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Congress enacted the IDEA in 1975. The purpose behind IDEA is to provide early intervention services for children starting from birth to the age of three who are developmentally disabled or are at risk for developing a disability. It also requires schools to provide special education and related services for children who are eligible from ages three to 22.
IDEA contains specific parental rights and procedural safeguards. It provides for a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). It provides for appropriate assessments and necessary related services, such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, mental health services, etc.
Practice Pointer: Special education students are not entitled to the “best” or a “potential maximizing” education. School districts are only required to provide a “basic floor of opportunity.” This means an education that provides “some” educational benefit to your disabled child.
Parents must never say they want what is “best” for their child. Because the law does not entitle special education students to the “best” education, this statement will always be used against parents to deny services. Stay away from statements like, “The best program for my child is . . .” or “This service will provide the best education for my child.” Instead, parents should ALWAYS use the term “appropriate” or “proper” to describe the placement or services for their child’s needs.
To be eligible under IDEA, there are 13 categories. These are: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment (impairment in strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problem, e.g., ADHD, epilepsy), emotionally disturbed, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury and visual impairment.
Section 504 Of The Rehabilitation Act (Section 504)
Section 504 is a civil rights law. The purpose of Section 504 is to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination for reasons related to their disabilities. The law requires that students with disabilities receive benefits and services comparable to those given their nondisabled peers.
To be eligible under Section 504, a child must have a physical or mental impairment that affects at least one major life activity. Major life activities include walking, hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, writing, performing math calculations, working, caring for oneself and performing manual tasks.
Under Section 504, a child with a disability may receive accommodations and modifications at school that are not available to nondisabled children. These accommodations and modifications are also available under IDEA, which include but not limited to the following: more time to take tests, preferential seating, tests read to child, test taking in isolated room, modified grading, two sets of textbooks and enlarged font.
Practice Pointer: If you are being encouraged by the school district to accept a 504 plan, you should ask why your child is not eligible to have an IEP. A child who is eligible under Section 504 has fewer rights than a child who qualifies under IDEA. A child who qualifies for special education services under IDEA automatically is protected under Section 504.
Family Educational Rights And Privacy Act (FERPA)
Parents have the right to inspect and receive copies of all educational records relating to their child. To receive copies of your child’s educational records, a written request must be made to the school district. It is good practice to send your request to the district office and the local school site. Make sure you send the request by both certified mail and via fax, or take it to the school district’s special education office and obtain a written receipt. Keep a copy for your records.