Legal Standards & Issues in the Education of Students with Emotional Impairments

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Do you know the specific legal standards that apply to your students with emotional impairments? This lesson explores those legal standards as well as some issues that arise in implementation.

Emotional Impairment Is a Disability

Sarah is a student who has bipolar disorder. This means that Sarah's mood throughout the school day can vary from happiness to extreme sadness and anger. In between, Sarah has calm moments. These extremes in Sarah's mood make people wonder if school is the right setting for her education.

The guiding principle here is that emotional impairment, such as bipolar disorder, is a disability, which federal law defines as a physical or mental impairment. Emotional impairment is legally defined as an emotional disturbance that is present for long periods of time and is so evident that it affects the child's educational performance. Students with this type of impairment have the same basic educational rights as their peers as well as some specific rights based on their particular situation.

Let's explore the applicable laws and then we'll examine some issues that arise in implementation.

Legal Basis of the Rights of Students with Disabilities

Three important laws regulate the rights of students with disabilities such as emotional impairment.

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): A federal law that mandates schools across the country to provide special education and services to students with disabilities
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This civil rights law mainly regulates the rights of individuals with disabilities in the work setting. However, this law also applies to private school settings, including universities, because it prohibits discrimination toward individuals with disabilities.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination toward individuals with disabilities by specifically defining some rights they have

Many considerations apply to students with disabilities under these laws, but the here are the basic requirements.

Free and Appropriate Public Education

IDEA, ADA and Section 504 mandate that schools provide students with disabilities (including emotional impairments) a free and public education. This right includes the possibility to attend school in the 'least restrictive environment,' which is a regular classroom. For instance, Sarah cannot be put in a separate classroom to learn or be asked to leave the school due to her bipolar disorder.

Teacher License Standards

IDEA mandates schools to provide students with disabilities with the appropriate assistance for their disability. For this purpose, IDEA includes available funding so that schools can develop special education programs and services. Typically, this requires hiring special education teachers who are licensed to practice in a given school district. To illustrate, Sarah's school has a Special Education Department that includes a specialist in dealing with behavior issues.

Standard Diagnostic Tests

IDEA requires schools to identify and evaluate students suspected of having a disability (including emotional impairment). Special education professionals use their specialized knowledge of tests to diagnose emotional impairments. For instance, when it was clear that Sarah needed to be evaluated to identify her emotional impairment, the specialized tests had no cost for Sarah's parents and they were informed in a timely manner about the need for evaluation.

Monitoring and Standard Plan Elements

IDEA regulates the possibility that schools develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for students with disabilities both to assist them with their specific individual needs and to monitor their progress. For instance, Sarah's special education teachers have an IEP that describes some specific approaches to help her catch up academically with her peers.

Similarly, Section 504 regulates the possibility that schools develop a Section 504 plan to assist students with disabilities who can still make academic progress despite their disability. For example, a student in Sarah's class has a hearing disability. As long as a sign language interpreter is in place, the student can continue making normal academic progress in school. This student does not need special education but does need to have a Section 504 plan so the sign language interpreter assists teachers at school.

Now, let's explore some issues regarding the implementation of legally required services for students with emotional impairment.

Legal Issues in Implementation

Some issues arise in the implementation of legally required educational services.

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