Parents are naturally protective of their children and want what’s best for them. Parents must often act as advocates for their kids, including for their educational services. Part of that advocacy means knowing the rules and laws that govern students’ educational rights.
There are many federal rules that cover education law in the U.S., many of which are governed by the U.S. Department of Education. Your state may have its own unique rules in addition to these requirements, but federal education law governs the minimum requirements.
Whether you’re a parent, teacher, or administrator, you care about the children in your care and want to ensure they have the protections they need. Knowing more about these federal education laws can help you achieve those goals.
It’s important to note that these rules primarily apply to public schools; private schools may be exempt from certain rules and regulations.
Many of the laws governing education standards were created through a few key federal acts. These laws have been updated throughout the years as more is learned about child development and learning styles, allowing laws to better address specific areas of need and support. Some of the more prominent acts are:
One of the biggest set of rules for public schools in the U.S. is the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). A relatively new act, it was signed in 2015 and serves to reinforce or update older education laws so they better match modern needs and opportunities.
Some of the school requirements outlined by ESSA include:
ESSA also provides funding for literacy programs, and gives parents more freedom to have a say in their children’s education.
Another set of laws that public schools must follow is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). This act works to protect student privacy and provides parents (or sometimes the students themselves) access to the student’s school records. This also gives them a chance to request corrections to inaccurate information.
In most cases, parents will need to provide consent for a school to share a child’s records, with a few exceptions to provide access to other schools the student is transferring to, the student’s teachers and administrators when it’s educationally relevant, for certain types of emergencies, and a few other circumstances.
Education laws demand equal, quality education to all students. As such, schools aren’t allowed to discriminate against students based on protected class status like race, gender, disability, and national origin.
Discrimination against disabilities is governed by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and overseen by the Office for Civil Rights. It requires public schools to provide and follow accommodation and modification plans, for free, to give students with special needs an equitable education.
Racial discrimination in schools falls under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is the act that required schools to desegregate, and governs rules against racial discrimination in schools today. Students must all be provided equal opportunity and education, regardless of race, as well as fair and equal access to extracurricular actives and student organizations.
Sex and gender-based discrimination is outlawed by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. It requires schools to provide equal education, support, and opportunities to students regardless of gender, and has been expanding to cover protection for LGBTQ+ students as well. Title IX is also known for providing more equitable school athletic opportunities.
If you’re concerned that a school is providing education below federally-mandated standards, is unlawfully sharing students’ private information, or is discriminating against students because of their status in a protected class of people, you have options for getting those problems addressed.
If it’s happening on a smaller scale, say by one individual teacher, you could try going to the school’s administration or the school district administration. If the overall administration itself is unwilling to address any problems, or are the source of the problems themselves, you could report them to state or federal education departments.
It’s likely in your best interest to consult an education attorney on any of these matters. An attorney with knowledge and experience in this area could help you analyze the merits of your case, file the appropriate notices and complaints, and, if necessary, represent you in court if that becomes your only means of recourse.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified education lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local education attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.
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