Special Education Laws in Florida

Instructor: Bill Sands
Florida has a number of federal and state laws in place to ensure the effectiveness of special education practices. Read on for more information concerning these regulations.

Florida: Special Education Laws

There are multiple federal and state laws intended to ensure that developmentally disabled children have access to quality education. The most important laws that have the most impact in Florida are:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): A law that ensures free education for any and all students with disabilities.
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): A law intended to keep student education records safe and out of public view. This act also gives students consent to check over their records.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in all settings, including school, the workplace, and other public areas.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 An anti-discrimination bill that ensures disabled people have access to the same privileges as non-disabled people. Programs, including public schools that receive federal funds, cannot discriminate against a person because of a disability.

Special Education Law Principles

Exceptional student education (ESE) services and the laws that relate to them are founded on a series of six essential principles.

1. Appropriate Evaluation

One of the key factors in determining a child's level of need is the individual evaluation. During this period, a team of educators and administrators will observe and measure a child's capability and assess the services he or she will require (if any).

These evaluations may sometimes be performed by qualified specialists, such as a psychologist or speech-language pathologist.

2. Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

ESE services must always be free and should never post a financial cost to children or their parents. So long as a child attending a public school in Florida has a disability, he or she is guaranteed free exceptional education services from the local public school district.

3. Parent & Student Participation

Parents have unique insights into the needs of their children, and as such, their participation in developing ESE services is to be encouraged. Once students reach the age of 14 (or earlier, depending on their maturity), they too may be asked to provide input.

4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Every effort must be made to ensure that exceptional students receive the same education they would receive if they were not disabled. Though certain situations may require a more exclusive setting, schools and educators should always try to implement the least restrictive measures possible. This may require the use of an assistant and other support mechanisms.

5. Individual Education Plan

Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, are detailed sets of instructions that completely outline ESE services for special needs children. These plans should include an explanation of the child's needs, specific instructions for services, and a series of goals to measure a child's progress.

6. Procedural Safeguards

Each of the laws listed above contains various checkpoints to ensure that all the proper steps have been taken. At any time, parents have the right to voice their complaints if they feel that something improper has occurred.


If you believe your child may be eligible for such services (or if you're simply curious about Florida's regulations), you should be aware of the requirements for ESE eligibility.

In order to receive ESE services, children in Florida must fall into at least one exceptionality category. Disabilities and conditions on this list cover a wide range of issues, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Deaf, or hard-of-hearing (DHH)
  • Speech impairment (SI)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

ESE Planning and Delivering Process

Children who receive ESE services are all subject to the same implementation process, which is designed to ensure that a student's needs are being properly met.

First, the school system performs an evaluation (mentioned above in principle #1) to assess a child's eligibility for ESE services. If a child is determined to be eligible, administrators and teachers will begin work on the first IEP. At this point, parents must offer their consent to allow the school to provide these services.

Finally, ESE services are to be frequently re-evaluated and re-assessed. As children age, their needs may change, and constant checks must be made to ensure that a child's plan is still suitable and functioning properly. Every IEP is subject to an annual review, during which procedures may be changed as needed.

Special Education Law Resources

If you would like to learn more about special education laws, this History of Special Education Law course provides a comprehensive review of past policy concerning special education, current laws, significant court cases, and current trends in special education. This Understanding Special Education Law course takes a look at contemporary issues and guidelines related to special education.

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