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You want to be an effective advocate for your child with special needs. The first step is to understand the laws that are in place to protect children with special needs. Federal laws regulate special education services and make sure schools provide accommodations for children with disabilities. Almost all states now have anti-bullying laws on the books, as well. By understanding these laws and your child’s rights, you’ll know better how to ensure your child receives fair and equal access to their education.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Enacted in 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that all children with qualifying disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. The law outlines the special education benefit, including individualized special education services. States have different procedures for implementing the law, but they all must be consistent with the IDEA. In accordance with the six basic principles outlined in Part B of the IDEA, schools must:
- Provide free and appropriate public education. Schools are required to provide an education at public expense, under public supervision and direction.
- Conduct an evaluation. Schools must gather the information necessary to help determine the child’s educational needs and guide decision making about appropriate educational programming.
- Produce an individualized education program. To ensure that the child’s individual needs are met, schools must create a written statement of the educational program designed for the child.
- Provide the least restrictive environment. Children with a disability are entitled by law to receive an appropriate education designed to meet their special needs. They must be educated with their nondisabled peers unless the nature of the disability is such that they cannot achieve in a general education classroom, even with supplementary aids and supports.
- Offer opportunities for meaningful participation. Schools must provide opportunities for parents and students, when appropriate, to get involved throughout the special education process.
- Implement procedural safeguards. Procedural safeguards ensure that children’s and parental rights are protected and establish clear steps to address disputes. Procedural safeguards guarantee that parents can participate in meetings, examine all educational records and obtain an individual educational evaluation.
The IDEA’s Part B also establishes the educational requirements for children with a disability from ages 3 to 21. To further explore how this legislation helps to safeguard your child’s rights, visit the IDEA website, which covers such topics as discipline, early intervention services, identification of specific learning disabilities, individualized education programs, dispute resolution and much more. To learn about due process in disputes about special education services, see the fact sheet, Resolving Concerns With a Child’s Special Education Services.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. The ADA defines an individual with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.” The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
Title II of the ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by public entities, including public elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance. Title II requires that qualified individuals with disabilities, including students, parents and other program participants, are not excluded from or denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of a public entity, or otherwise subjected to discrimination by a public entity, by reason of a disability.”
At the Department of Justice’s ADA website, you’ll find the full text of the ADA and additional information about the act, including lists of questions and answers about child care centers and the ADA and the Amendments Act of 2008 for Students with Disabilities Attending Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance, including federal funds. Public school districts, institutions of higher education and other state and local education agencies may all be recipients of these funds.
Section 504 helps children with disabilities access school services by requiring schools to provide accommodations and modifications. But, unlike IDEA, it does not provide for an individualized education program. Even if a child does not qualify for special education services under the IDEA, he or she may qualify for special accommodations under this law. For example, a child who must use a wheelchair but does not require special education services could receive accommodations under Section 504.
The regulations implementing Section 504 in the context of educational institutions appear at 34 C.F.R. Part 104. This comprehensive list of more than 40 common questions and answers about Section 504 and the education of children with disabilities further explain how this legislation protects your child’s rights.
The federal government’s anti-bullying website defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior among youth that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is likely to repeat. Making threats, spreading rumors, physically or verbally attacking someone, and deliberately excluding another person from a group all constitute bullying. In recent years, bullying has become the subject of increased media attention, particularly as technology and social media websites have given rise to “cyberbullying,” occasionally with tragic consequences.
Every state in the nation addresses anti-bullying. Using an interactive map at the StopBullying website, you can research your own state’s laws and policies and find out more about the 13 key components of state anti-bullying legislation, including specification of prohibited conduct, development and implementation of local education agency policies, and training and preventive education.
The website also includes guidance prepared especially for kids, including “Facts about Bullying,” “What You Can Do,” and more than a dozen “webisodes” (cartoons that portray bullying situations and show kids how to address bullying) with accompanying quizzes.
Your school may have a policy related to discrimination, harassment or bullying. Familiarize yourself with your school’s policy by reading the parent handbook or policy manual. If you can’t find any information in the parent handbook, ask your school for a copy of its policy.
For more detailed information on the range of laws protecting children with disabilities, you may be interested in the Department Of Justice’s Guide to Disability Rights Laws.
What to do when you have concerns about school implementation
The Resolving Concerns With a Child’s Special Education Services fact sheet outlines the steps parents and guardians can take if they disagree with their children’s school on any issue involving the special education program.
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