Copyright

Protecting Students from Common Legal Issues in Education

Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Many laws protect the rights of students, so they can focus on studying. This lesson discusses common laws designed to protect student privacy and to shield students from discrimination.

Equal Opportunities

Mary is deaf and needs a sign language interpreter. Brandon, who only speaks Hindi at home and struggles with English, has been put in a class with profoundly disabled students, where he learns very little. Gillian's Physical Education teacher makes her sit out class because she's pregnant; she's so humiliated by this that she considers dropping out of school. Fortunately, existing laws protect the right of these children to receive an equal opportunity to learn.

Children with Disabilities

Children with disabilities have a right to an education that is roughly equivalent to other children, taking into account their needs. This is codified in two main laws, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

IDEA says that disabled children have the right to free appropriate public education, or a free education that is tailored to their needs. A parent, school, or other educational agency can request that a child be evaluated to see if he or she might have a disability. The school must then, at no cost to the child's family, evaluate the child to determine whether and to what extent that child might have a disability. The school must also determine the best way to teach that child, and provide a written report explaining (1) the child's current ability, (2) what assistance the school can provide, and (3) proposed benchmarks the child should achieve. This is called an individualized education program, or IEP. The public school must then provide whatever assistance it has determined is needed to meet the targets set forth in the IEP. IDEA also states that children with disabilities have a right to be taught in the least restrictive environment, preferably with children their own age. A disabled student can only be removed if the student's disability is so severe that learning in a 'regular' class is impossible, even with supplementary aids and assistance.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, students with disabilities have a right to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to learn with their peers. The steps a school may take to help a student with a disability, as long as they are not overly disruptive or cost prohibitive, are called reasonable accommodations. Such accommodations must be provided free of charge to the student. Like IDEA, Section 504 applies to all programs that receive federal funds, including local education agencies. However, Section 504 goes further and applies to sports and other extracurricular activities as well.

Bilingual Children

Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968, also called the Bilingual Education Act, protects the rights of students with limited English speaking abilities. This act protects their right to receive an education they can understand by allocating federal funds to school districts to create bilingual programs. One landmark legal case - Lau v. Nichols - had a powerful effect on bilingual education. This Supreme Court case concerned a Chinese-speaking student who received the same textbooks and learned from the same teachers as English-speaking peers. The Court ruled that the student was not receiving the same education, since he spoke little English. After that case, schools were told that students with little or no English must be given a 'meaningful opportunity to participate in school programs.' The Equal Education Opportunity Act (EEOA) made the Lau ruling the law. This act required that all school districts - even those that receive no federal funding - take affirmative steps to remove language barriers so that students with limited English-speaking ability can participate equally in class.

Discrimination

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects students from discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin at schools that receive federal funding. While that seems pretty straightforward, race discrimination issues continue to come up in schools. Some examples include failing to provide bilingual classes for minority students who have little or no English-speaking ability or assigning such students to classes for disabled students. The practice of providing separate colleges for students of a certain race is also being investigated as a problem.

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