5 Important Special Education Laws

5-important-special-education-lawsStudents with disabilities and special needs may need individually planned and systematically delivered teaching techniques.

Special education programs work to help individuals develop not only their academic skills, but also the personal skills that help them become self-sufficient members of the community.

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Special education programs became obligatory in 1975 to prevent discrimination by public educational institutions against individuals with disabilities. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that, as of 2013, approximately 13 percent of all students in public schools were receiving special education services.

1. Education for All Handicapped Children Act

Passed by Congress in 1975, this was the first special education law directed at students with physical and mental disabilities. The law stated that public schools must provide children with special needs with the same opportunities for education as other children. It also required any public school that received federal funds to provide one free meal a day for these children.

The mission of this act was to:

  • make special education services accessible to children who require them;
  • maintain fair and appropriate services for disabled students;
  • institute systematic evaluation requirements for special education; and
  • endow federal resources to public schools for the education of disabled students.
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2. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, was created in 1990 and is a modification of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This law ensures that special needs students receive appropriate free public education in the least restrictive environment necessary to meet those students’ needs. It helps students receive the extra assistance they need but allows them to participate in the same activities as children without special needs whenever possible.

3. No Child Left Behind

In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act, called for schools to be accountable for academic performance of all students, whether or not they had disabilities. The act requires schools in every state to develop routine assessments of students’ academic skills. While it does not stipulate that these assessments meet a national standard, the law does oblige each state to come up with its own criteria for evaluation. No Child Left Behind provides incentives for schools to demonstrate progress in students with special needs. It also allows for students to seek alternative options if schools are not meeting their academic, social or emotional needs.

4. Individualized Education Programs

The IDEA maintains that parents and teachers of children who qualify for special education must develop an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, that helps establish specific education for a child’s explicit needs. This requires caregivers to meet initially to determine a child’s eligibility for an IEP and to come together annually to develop and assess the educational plan.

The student’s educational strategy must be designated in writing and should include an evaluation and description of the current academic status, measurable goals and objectives, designation of an instructional setting and placement within that setting and transition services for children aged 16 or older. An IEP gives parents the right to dispute any issues with the school district through a neutral third party.

5. Students with Disabilities and Postsecondary School

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 forbid discrimination in schools based on disability. This applies to colleges and universities as well as elementary, middle and high schools. Many students with special needs go on to study at the postsecondary level, but the laws are slightly different for postsecondary schools. The law does not require postsecondary schools to provide a free appropriate public education to students, but it does oblige schools to offer suitable academic adjustments and accessible housing to students with disabilities.

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Whether you’re a student with disabilities or you’re looking to teach children with disabilities, it’s important to know special education laws. These laws preserve the rights of students and their families and help integrate students with special needs into society without segregating them. Although the laws differ slightly from state to state, the acts passed by Congress help to standardize the treatment of students with special needs across the country.