Special Children, Special Needs: A Brief Overview of Laws for Students with Disabilities

Written by Bernice Sosa-Izquierdo

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990) states:

“The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual –

(a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;
(b) a record of such impairment; or

(c) being regarded as having such an impairment.” (P.L. 101-336, Sec.)

Although it does not specify type, severity, or duration of disability, it further goes on to define a disability as: “ … a condition which limits a person’s ability to function in major life activities – including communication, walking, and self-care (such as feeding and dressing oneself) – and which is likely to continue indefinitely, resulting in the need for supportive services” (What is the Legal Definition of a Disability?, http://www.ucp.org/) Generally, a disability can be physical, cognitive, sensory, emotional, developmental or some combination of these.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the law that outlines rights and regulations for students with disabilities in the U.S. who require special education. Under the IDEA, all children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least-Restrictive Environment (LRE), and some are entitled to Early Intervention (EI) and Extended School Year (ESY). The law specifies how schools must provide or deny services, and how parents can fight school districts for them (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, http://specialchildren.about.com). One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is a sound education. Before we can do this, however, we must understand the laws and rights of our children. No one is a better or more effective advocate for a child than their own parent. The education system is a business like any other. The more we realize this; that our children’s best interest lies in our own hands; that we have the legal rights and power to make a difference in the quality of our children’s education, the more our children are likely to succeed. Unfortunately, many parents find themselves intimidated by the system. Sadly, this can be due to language barrier, level of educational completion by parent, or simple unawareness. What do we do?

We work together as a community and help spread the word. Before any services can be received a child must be evaluated. According to federal and state laws, parents, public school districts, and charter schools have a right to request evaluations for special education services at any time. In the case of parental request, school districts must to reply with appropriate data to support their decision along with procedural safeguards. Copies of all meetings and paperwork are to be provided to the parent in their native language, and all meetings should provide translators whenever necessary. Students who are approved for evaluation should also be tested in their native language. If the evaluator does not speak the native language, it is that student’s legal right to either be provided an evaluator that does or a translator. Once the results have been established, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) outlining a set of goals/educational program for the child will be provided. This can be thought of as a map, if you will, of where the student is in their education and the direction in which they should be headed. The IEP is determined by the IEP team which consists of: parent, student, general education teacher, special education teacher, school administrator, evaluation personnel, and/or other with knowledge or special expertise regarding the student. It is important to note that: 1) IEP meetings must be performed within 60 school days from the date of referral; 2) IEP meetings must occur within 30 days after team determines student has been deemed eligible to receive services; 3) IEP must be reviewed at least once a year to discuss changes or revisions; and 4) Parents must be informed of child’s IEP progress at least as often as parents of children who do not receive special services. Dependent upon evaluation and progress, a student may or may not require an IEP from grade school through high school.

Upon entering college, students who have been provided special services throughout their academic career are, generally, entitled to request such services from their college or university. First, however, they must be able to provide appropriate documentation that is also up-to-date (a list of documentation guidelines should be provided by the college or university). It is imperative that said students visit their campus disability center with this documentation and meet with the appropriate counselor who will (evaluate) determine which available services would be most beneficial. The goal of such higher education facilities is to assist individuals in obtaining appropriate accommodations and services while empowering each student to become as independent as possible. While it is important to assist these students to succeed academically, it is equally important to encourage and support independence in daily living. If eligible, services and accommodations for students in higher education may include: extended test taking time, testing alone (with a proctor), reading services, books on tape, note-taking services, scribe services, and/or reader services. Students with documented disabilities of all types have gone on to become successful doctors, teachers, lawyers, politicians, nutritionists, CEO’s, accountants, etc. There is no limitation to what any individual can achieve if guided through the right path – that is, the path that works for them.

For more information on this topic, please visit:

*Services In School For Children With Special Needs: What Parents Need To Know – http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/services_in_school_for_children_with_special_needs_what_parents_need_to_know

*Other Related Disability Laws – http://www.fape.org/idea/what_idea_is/other_laws.htm

* Internet Resources for Families of Children with Disabilities – http://www.supportforfamilies.org/internetguide/laws.html

* The Differences Between IDEA and Section 504 – http://school.familyeducation.com/special-education/ada/38439.html
* A Guide to Disability Rights Laws – http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm

* The Differences Between IDEA and Section 504 – http://school.familyeducation.com/special-education/ada/38439.html

* A Guide to Disability Rights Laws – http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm

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