Education Terms You May Hear From Lawyers

By The Understood Team
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If your child has a learning or thinking difference, he may have a right to services and supports at school through an IEP or a 504 plan. Since navigating this process can be tricky, you might decide to consult with a lawyer at some point. And the lawyer may use terms you’ve never heard. This mini-glossary can help you understand the legal language you’re hearing.

504 plan is a blueprint or plan for how a child will have access to education at school. It typically includes accommodations, and sometimes services as well.

Accommodations are changes that give people with disabilities equal access. An example of an accommodation is an audiobook. See more examples of accommodations that help kids with learning and thinking differences.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that makes it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. ADA requires schools and employers to make “reasonable accommodations” so people with disabilities can fully participate at school and at work.

Due process is a formal way to resolve special education disputes. This process is spelled out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the main federal law for K–12 general education. ESSA requires annual testing for students. Under the law, states hold schools accountable for student progress within a framework provided by the federal government. Read about the difference between ESSA and No Child Left Behind, the law ESSA replaced.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. There are only a few circumstances in which a school can share a child’s records without a parent’s consent.

Free and appropriate public education (FAPE) refers to the legal requirement that public schools provide eligible kids with disabilities the support and services they need (and in general education settings as much as possible).

Independent educational evaluation (IEE) is an outside evaluation done by a professional who isn’t employed by the school district. In some cases, schools may pay for this outside evaluation.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a plan for a child’s special education experience at school. It outlines the special education and related services (such as speech therapy or counseling) the school will provide to meet a student’s individual needs. See a chart that compares IEPs and 504 plans.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that ensures that public schools serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities. Find out how IDEA protects you and your child.

Informed consent is the legal right of parents to be informed and give consent before a school evaluates a child or provides special education.

Lau v. Nichols refers to a Supreme Court decision that school districts must treat all students equally. Under this ruling, English language learners (ELLs) must get the support and resources they need. “Lau remedies” are guidelines to make sure schools follow civil rights requirements when teaching ELLs.

Least restrictive environment (LRE) is part of IDEA, which states that public schools must educate kids with disabilities in a general education setting as much as possible. Read more about LRE.

Local education agency (LEA) is the board of education or other authority that controls the public school.

Modifications are changes in what a student is expected to learn. They may be written in a student’s IEP and can include things like a reduced number of assignments. Learn about the difference between accommodations and modifications.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a federal education law that no longer exists. NCLB was replaced by ESSA.

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a branch of the U.S. Department of Education that investigates allegations of civil rights violations in schools. Parents can file a complaint with OCR about these violations.

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) is part of the U.S. Department of Education. It oversees Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs) that educate parents about special education.

Prior written notice is a requirement that schools must inform parents before denying or making changes to a child’s services or placement.

Related services are services that help a child meet education goals, but that aren’t specialized instruction. An example of a related service is speech therapy. See more examples of related services.

Response to intervention (RTI) is a process in which schools provide different levels of intervention for struggling students.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a federal civil rights law that bars discrimination against students with disabilities in schools. This law provides for 504 plans for students with disabilities.

Special education refers to instruction specially designed to meet the unique needs of kids with disabilities. Get more details on special education.

Special education advocate is someone who guides parents through the special education process. He can’t give legal advice or represent families in lawsuits. See a chart that shows the difference between an advocate and an attorney.

State education agency (SEA) is the agency that supervises public schools in each state.

“Stay put” rights are legal protections in special education law. A school can’t change your child’s services or placement until it goes through the proper dispute resolution process. Learn more about “stay put” rights.

It’s valuable to understand terms like these when speaking to a lawyer. You may also want to check out which laws do what. Studying up on terms educators use could also be a big help when it comes to advocating for your child, along with IEP terms.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Myrna Mandlawitz, MEd, JD 

has worked for over 20 years as a consultant/lobbyist on special and general education.

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