Special Education Law – Summary

Many of us who went to school not too long ago remember that being a student with special needs meant riding a separate bus to school and attending a class with other children with different disabilities. These classes were more like daycare than school, and even the most advanced students had little hope of receiving a high school diploma, let alone attending college. Since then, the term disability and special needs student has expanded to encompass much more than a person with an IQ below some arbitrary standard. What I have tried to do in my first article is to give a little history of the evolution of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954) which found that segregated schools were a violation of equal protection rights. It would be another twenty years before this concept was applied to children with disabilities, especially learning disabilities, trying to get an education. In fact, shortly after the Brown decision, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that compulsory education did not apply to students with mental disabilities and, until 1969, it was a crime to try to enroll a disabled child in a public school if that child had once been excluded.

Due to court challenges in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in the early 1970s, things began to change. In 1975, Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This was the first law to mandate that all disabled students have the right to an education. He not only demanded that all students with disabilities have the right to an education, but also held local educational agencies to account for failing to do so. Shortly thereafter, the term disabled was replaced by “disabled child”. Although revised in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the most comprehensive changes came in 1997. This law required schools to identify children with disabilities to ensure that all children had an “education available to them.” free and appropriate public service and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living” 20 USC § 1401(d). Unfortunately, the most recent changes in 2004 made the law a bit more difficult to receive the benefits it deserves, which, depending on the next administration and the makeup of Congress, may or may not be a trend to follow in the future. .

What exactly is a “free appropriate public education”? Under the law, it is defined as “special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge: (B) meet the standards of the state educational agency; ( C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary, or secondary education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in accordance with the individualized education program required under [the law].” In other words, the school must provide services that meet the needs of a child with a disability that may affect his or her ability to learn. These “related services” can be services that are provided in the classroom, such as giving the child time to finish taking the tests.They may also include services that can be provided outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, or having the child attend a residential or day program outside of school, along with transportation.

For historical data, I relied on Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter WD Wright and Pamela Darr Wright and Special Education Law in Massachusetts by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education.

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