Special Education: Federal Laws & Regulations

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Children with disabilities are protected by federal legislation and have the right to a public education. This lesson looks at some specific laws and regulations that affect teachers of students with disabilities.

Educational Rights of Students With Disabilities

Johnny is a fourth grader with Down syndrome, who qualifies for special education under the classification 'Intellectual Disability.' Let's look at the main laws and regulations that affect Johnny's education, and how they apply in an actual classroom.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975, is the first major piece of education legislation that specifically included people with disabilities like Johnny. The law mandated that schools must provide children with disabilities the same opportunities as other children. This meant that for the first time, children with disabilities had the right to attend a public school and be included in mainstream settings. Funding from the federal government was allotted to educating students with disabilities in the public school.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 is the latest piece of legislation that has had a major impact in schools. This law holds teachers and schools accountable for the education of students with disabilities. IDEA has six main principles and rights that protect students with disabilities.

Now let's review each of these six parts and how they affect students like Johnny in the classroom.

Free Appropriate Education

Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) means that students with disabilities are entitled to a public education, and the related services they require, at no cost to the parents. Services provided to students with disabilities must be individualized to give them equal opportunities to education as their typical peers.

Johnny's teachers ensure that he gets a free and appropriate education by making sure he receives services such as speech therapy and occupational therapy. These services are provided in the public school, at no cost to Johnny's parents.

Evaluation

Under IDEA, schools are responsible for finding and evaluating students who may have a disability. Evaluations must:

  • Be conducted by trained, knowledgeable professionals
  • Be given in a nondiscriminatory way
  • Include appropriate materials and procedures

Evaluations should be selected based on individual students, and the information needed to make a diagnosis.

Johnny was tested in a variety of areas to get as much applicable information as possible. He was given tests to assess his intellectual potential, his social and behavior skills, his speech and language skills, his academic levels and his daily functioning skills.

Individualized Education Plan

Once a student qualifies for special education services based on evaluations, an individualized education plan (IEP) is written. The IEP is a legally binding document that details a student's present levels of academic achievement, specific goals and objectives for the year, and the related services the student requires. The IEP is written by a team that includes the child, the parents, the special education teacher, the regular education teacher, the principal and any other professional who will be providing services.

Johnny's IEP team meets together once a year to determine how he is progressing and what he needs to work on. His IEP includes goals related to reading, math, speech, fine motor skills and classroom behavior. His teachers are required by law to implement the IEP.

Least Restrictive Environment

IDEA strongly emphasizes the requirement to place students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. The least restrictive environment (LRE) for students with disabilities is the environment where they are receiving the same education as their peers as much as they can. This prevents teachers from putting all students with disabilities automatically in the special education classroom for the day.

While Johnny spends part of the day receiving individualized instruction in the special education setting, he also spends time in his regular fourth grade classroom. He goes to art, science, P.E., recess, lunch and music with his typical peers. As Johnny progresses, his teachers will work more mainstream instruction into his day, with the help of classroom modifications and accommodations.

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