Special Education Laws Every Teacher Should Know About

Protecting the rights of students with disabilities and upholding the law.

Special Education Laws Every Teacher Should Know About

In recent decades, we have witnessed significant progress in providing inclusion and equal education opportunities for students with diverse learning needs .

The special education laws and regulations ensure students with disabilities receive the support and accommodations they need to thrive in the academic environment.

It is not only a legal requirement but also essential for educators to understand these laws to provide the best possible education for all students.

A recent study by Mork (2016) found that teachers lacked some essential information about IDEIA and had limited knowledge of provisions covered by Section 504.

Only 21% of teachers in this study had any coursework related to special education lawsIDEIA and Section 504.

In this blog, we will discuss the most important special ed laws for students with disabilities that every teacher should know about.

1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The IDEA mandates that students with disabilities are entitled to a free and appropriate public education, tailored to their individual needs.

The core principles of IDEA are as follows:

  • Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): IDEA requires schools to provide students with disabilities with FAPE. So, schools must provide students with the services and support they need to succeed academically and socially.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): Schools must develop IEPs for each eligible student with a disability. The IDEA IEP requirements outline specific goals, accommodations, and services necessary to help the student succeed.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The LRE principle is a legal requirement for schools in the United States. The idea is that all students, including those with disabilities, should be able to learn in the general education classroom whenever possible.
  • Procedural Safeguards: IDEA provides parents and students with specific rights and procedural safeguards to ensure they have a voice in the special education process.

2. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The FERPA is a federal special education law in the United States that protects the privacy of students' educational records.

It applies to all educational institutions receiving federal funding.

Under FERPA, students and parents have the right to:

  • access
  • amend and,
  • control the disclosure of their educational records.

Teachers should be aware of FERPA, especially when handling confidential information like IEPs.

FERPA prohibits the disclosure of education records without written consent, with exceptions for specific situations, such as:

  • To school officials with a legitimate educational interest.
  • To other schools where the student is transferring.
  • To certain government officials for audits or evaluations.

3. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The ESSA, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), focuses on ensuring the success of all students, including those with disabilities.

ESSA emphasizes high academic standards for students with disabilities, requires fair and accessible assessments, establishes accountability measures, promotes equitable access to resources and opportunities, and supports schools to serve students with disabilities better.

Consider the following case scenario , a school district has a high population of students from low-income families. But the district is struggling to meet the academic needs of these students, and the graduation rate is low.

The school district can use ESSA funds to develop and implement programs to help students meet academic standards, such as hiring more teachers, providing tutoring programs, or purchasing new technology solutions.

4. The Assistive Technology Act

The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 is a US law that increases access to assistive technology for people with disabilities.

Assistive Technology refers to devices, equipment, software, and services that help people with disabilities perform tasks.

It has significantly impacted the lives of people with disabilities by helping them gain access to the assistive technology they need to live independently and participate fully in society.

The Act provides funding for four key components:

  • State Assistive Technology Programs: These programs provide services to people with disabilities, including device loan and demonstration programs, financial assistance, and training and technical assistance.
  • Device Loan and Demonstration Centers: These centers allow people with disabilities to try out different devices before they buy them.
  • Financial Assistance: The Act provides financial assistance to help people with disabilities purchase devices and services.
  • Training and Technical Assistance: The Act provides training and technical assistance to help people with disabilities learn how to use and maintain devices and services.

5. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits schools from discriminating against students with disabilities.

A student must have a substantial limitation in a significant life activity to be eligible for protection under section 504.

Schools must provide reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access to education for eligible students, regardless of whether they qualify for special education services under IDEA.

Parents have the right to participate in developing and appealing Section 504 Plans.

The mission of this act was to:

  • Prevent Discrimination
  • Provide Equal Opportunities
  • Ensure Accessibility
  • Individualized Support
  • Protect Rights
  • Empower Individuals

For instance, A student with a learning disability is struggling to keep up in his mathematics class.

With the help of Section 504 , the teacher could provide the student with extra time on tests, allow the student to use a calculator, or give the student access to a tutor.

6. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a comprehensive federal civil rights law in the United States that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of public life.

It was enacted in 1990 and subsequently amended.

The ADA ensures equal opportunities and access for people with disabilities, promoting inclusion and nondiscrimination.

Here are some key aspects and implications of the ADA:

  • The ADA defines "disability" broadly to include physical and mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities.
  • Telecommunications relay services are mandated to facilitate communication for those with hearing or speech impairments.
  • It emphasizes reasonable accommodations, modifications, auxiliary aids, and services to eliminate barriers and ensure access.

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