Special Education Law
The right to an education is essential for every child. Education laws exist to ensure safe, fair, and adequate treatment and opportunities for all kids. Children with special needs have additional, specific laws that protect their rights in the classroom and require schools to provide essential services that each child needs.
It’s important for educators, administrators, and parents alike to understand the rules for special education law to prevent problematic or subpar treatment for children with special needs.
While there are many federal laws that dictate certain educational and safety requirements for kids with special needs, you should be sure to note any additional state laws. Most laws around special education apply only to public schools, and many private schools may be exempt.
Laws that govern special education requirements often come from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal regulation act overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. IDEA outlines several guidelines public schools must follow, including:
- Evaluating children suspected of having a special education need
- Providing resources to children who are found to have a special education need
- Allowing parental involvement in the decision-making process for the programs that will support their children
- Requiring parental consent for many treatment and support plans for their special-needs children
You can request an evaluation at anytime. These rules will apply only to certain types of needs, including autism, visual impairment, developmental delays, and physical or mental disabilities; they have to be considered an educational disability, and not all disabilities will impact a child’s learning to qualify as an educational disability. IDEA covers students from age three to age 21.
Each treatment and support plan should be tailored to the individual child’s specific needs. These are set through Individualized Education Program (IEPs). It takes a support team to craft an IEP; while some members of this team will vary based on child needs such a speech pathologists or physical therapists, there are mandatory members as well. Parents have to be involved, as does a classroom teacher, a Local Education Agency (LEA) which is typically a school administrator, and a school counselor.
IEPs might include programs like occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and math and reading interventions.
They must also list if a child needs accommodations for learning or modifications to their curriculum. IEPs have measurable goals and objectives. Your child may be re-evaluated every few years, but typically the IEP itself needs to be updated every school year.
Whether you’re looking to determine if your child has special needs at school or you want to update and improve existing plans, you’ll probably need to get comfortable advocating for your child. If you suspect your child may need modifications or accommodations at school, you can request that initial evaluation at any time. The school is required to include you in the plans they set for your child. Your child with special needs has a legal right to a free public education that serves their specific circumstances, so you should feel empowered to speak with teachers and administrators if there are additional ways they can help your child.
While most schools are accommodating and supportive, if you are in a district that’s not willing to test your child or to build plans that fit your child’s diagnosis, you may need to consult a legal advocate, like a special education lawyer. Having the extra support and expertise on your side could help you get the services your kid needs to succeed in school.