Major Federal Laws Affecting Special Education

Teacher working with student in classroom

Since 1974, federal legislation has provided the right for children with disabilities to receive an appropriate public education.  The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) reaffirmed these rights.  Under the federal law, special education means specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique needs of individuals with exceptional needs, including related services and transition services for youth ages 16 and above.

IDEIA also guarantees four basic rights to all children with disabilities.  In order to guarantee these rights, the Law also includes two protections.

Rights Under IDEA

  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – Children with disabilities (from birth until 22 years old) who meet special education eligibility criteria are entitled to a public education, appropriate to their needs, at no cost to their families.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – Each public agency must ensure that, to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities are educated with students who do not have disabilities. Special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of a child with a disability from the regular educational environment should occur only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in general education classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. The LEAs also strive to serve their students with disabilities as close to their home school as possible with appropriate support and services provided therein.
  • Supplementary Aids and Services (Related Services) – Children with disabilities must be provided aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular classes or other education-related settings and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable each child to be educated with nondisabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Assessment – An assessment must be completed to determine the needs of the child in all areas related to his or her suspected disabilities. This may be done only with the parent’s/guardian’s informed consent. After initial assessment and determination of eligibility for special education, the child must be reassessed at least every three years to determine continued eligibility and need for services.
  • Due Process – Due process is described in the legal procedural safeguards. They are designed to ensure that parents provide informed consent regarding special education programs offered. Further, due process provides a mechanism for the resolution of disagreements.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) – The IEP must be prepared at least annually for each child with a disability. It is developed by a team comprised of one or both of the child’s parents or a guardian, special education teacher or provider, a general education teacher, personnel who assessed the child (if applicable), and a person who is knowledgeable about general curriculum and the availability of resources (Administrator). Whenever appropriate, the pupil is encouraged to attend. Other persons who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the pupil may also attend at the discretion of the LEA or parent/guardian.  If more than one general education teacher is providing instructional services to the pupil, one teacher may be designated to represent the others.
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