Several important federal laws address the educational needs of children and youth with disabilities. The primary piece of legislation that protects and guarantees children with special needs the right to an appropriate public education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), or IDEA, as it is commonly referenced. Parents should familiarize themselves with these laws, as they are pivotal in the pursuit of their child with special needs’s educational rights. Step one in a parent’s quest for knowledge about special education is to know exactly what is special education.
Special education is the broad term used to describe specially designed instruction that meets the unique needs of a child who has a disability. There is a grand and gross misconception about the meaning of special education. The first thing you must understand is that special education is not a place, it is a system of support and services. Pursuant to IDEA, students with disabilities are to be educated with students who are NOT disabled, to the maximum extent appropriate. Students with disabilities have a right to be educated in the regular education classroom with their non-disabled peers. Moreover, education in regular education settings implies more than just physical presence; it includes access to the curriculum that is taught in the regular education classroom, and supports and accommodations must be put in place so that a child with a disability is able to access that academic curriculum, and make meaningful academic gain.
Students with disabilities are entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, federal civil rights’ laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, their respective state constitutions, and state law, to be free from discrimination and to be provided equal educational opportunity to learn that which all other students are expected to learn. Indeed, all of these legal safeguards guarantee, as they have from their inception, that students with disabilities must be educated in regular education settings to the maximum extent appropriate, and prohibit their exclusion unless education there cannot be achieved satisfactorily even with appropriate supplementary aids, supports and services. That is, students with disabilities are to be first and foremost educated in the Least Restrictive Environment.
Special education makes it possible for your child to achieve academic success despite his/her disability and to do so with inclusion. Yet, despite clearly mandated legal rights and numerous judicial rulings, we still see students with disabilities continue to be isolated and separately educated, provided a diluted and inferior education, and denied meaningful opportunities to learn. It is our goal and objective to help you ensure that your child not be denied such legally mandated opportunities.