Education Rights for Children with Special Needs

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One of the most difficult situations for parents with special needs children can be ensuring that those children get the education to which they are entitled. Some children experience difficulties in school, ranging from problems with concentration, learning, language, and perception to problems with behavior and/or making and keeping friends. Others have more serious problems, including physical or psychiatric disorders, emotional problems, or learning disorders.

Whatever the situation, these children are still entitled to an education.

Children with such special needs often require and are entitled to receive special services and reasonable accommodations through the public schools. Several federal laws provide for these accommodations, including The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990). Different states may also have additional criteria for eligibility, services available, and procedures for implementing the federal laws.

IDEA is a federal law that governs all special education services for children in the United States. Under IDEA, in order for a child to be eligible for special education, they must be in one of the following situations:

1. Suffering from serious emotional disturbance,
2. Suffering from learning disabilities,
3. Coping with mental retardation,
4. A victim of traumatic brain injury,
5. Autistic,
6. Coping with vision and/or hearing impairments,
7. Suffering from physical disabilities, or
8. Dealing with other health impairments that would otherwise interfere with the child's ability to attend class and/or learn in an ordinary manner.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights statute that prohibits schools from discriminating against children with disabilities. Moreover, it requires schools to provide disabled children with reasonable accommodations. It covers all programs or activities, whether public or private, that receive any federal financial assistance, giving this law very broad and powerful application. Reasonable accommodations include alternative testing arrangements without time restrictions, allowing the children to sit in the front of the class, modified homework assignments within the child's abilities, and providing the child with whatever services s/he requires in order to have as close to normal a school experience as possible.

Typically, children covered under Section 504 either have less severe disabilities than those covered under IDEA or have disabilities that do not fit within the eligibility categories of IDEA. Under Section 504, any person who has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is considered disabled, and learning and social development impairments are included on that list.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also requires all educational institutions, other than those operated by religious organizations, to meet the needs of children with physical or psychiatric disorders. The ADA prohibits the denial of educational services, programs or activities to students with disabilities and prohibits discrimination against all such students. Its application is less specific than the requirements of the other two statutes identified above, but often just as important when ensuring that children are provided with the education they deserve.

Often, to qualify your child for special services you must request an evaluation of the child's physical and psychological needs. This is usually accomplished through a battery of physical examinations, educational testing, a speech and language evaluation, occupational therapy assessment, and a behavioral analysis.

Remember, children with special needs are entitled to reasonable accommodations and special services in school under federal and state laws. Insisting that your child receive these accommodations and services is your duty as a parent and you should not feel guilty or allow school officials to pressure you into backing down. Parents should always advocate for their child and must be proactive. But, please understand, the process can be difficult and confusing. As a result, you may wish to consider contacting an experienced, qualified attorney who can help guide you through the process and further advocate for your child's needs.


Read more on this legal issue

An Overview of Special Education Law

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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