By Andrew M.I. Lee
Understanding your child’s legal rights can help you advocate for him. But legal language can be complex and hard to follow. Here we define key passages from the laws that govern special education.
“A free appropriate public education is available to all children with disabilities … between ages of 3 and 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school.” —Section 612(a)(1) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
The right to free and appropriate public education means that public schools must provide children “appropriate” educational services without charge. You and the school might not always agree on what’s “appropriate,” though. If that’s the case, you have options.
“All children with disabilities … regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located and evaluated.” —Section 612(a)(3) of IDEA.
This passage is called Child Find. It calls for public schools to look for and evaluate kids who could have disabilities. The school has a legal duty to figure out which children need special education services.
“To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal….from the regular educational environment occurs only when….education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” —Section 612(a)(5) of IDEA.
This provision is called the least restrictive environment. It means that before the school can remove a child from a general education class, they must try to help him by providing aids and services. Find out more about what this means.
“[Schools] shall… ensure that children with disabilities and their parents are guaranteed procedural safeguards with respect to the provision of a free appropriate public education.” —Section 615(a) of IDEA.
Procedural safeguards are also known as legal rights or protections. They cover children with disabilities and their parents. The safeguards include things like: the right to participate in meetings about your child; the right to examine your child’s records; and the right to have written notice when the school proposes to change your child’s services.
“[No] individual with a disability … shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program … receiving Federal financial assistance.” —Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
It’s illegal for people with disabilities to be discriminated against in any school that receives federal government money. That includes public schools and some private schools.
When it comes to your child’s legal rights, knowledge really is power. But there are a lot of misconceptions about the rights of kids with learning and attention issues. Learn the truth behind these 10 common myths.
Special education can seem like a foreign language. You may hear unfamiliar terms and acronyms in meetings and wish for a translator! Learn these key terms and you may find it easier to protect your child’s rights.
Andrew M.I. Lee is an editor and former attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education and parenting issues.
Patricia H. Latham, J.D., is an attorney and mediator and the coauthor of eight books on disability and the law.
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At a Glance: Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Important Safeguards for You and Your Child
Download: ESSA Parent Advocacy Toolkit
School Vouchers: What You Need to Know
Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA): What You Need to Know
What Is and Isn’t Covered Under FAPE
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