The main law that regulates special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law has been amended several times, most recently in 1997. Although the Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) are often referred to in regards to special education; however, these laws do more to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities than deal with special education itself.
Here is an overview over what IDEA states:
- Children and youth (aged 3-21) are determined eligible for special education services through an individualized evaluation and a multidisciplinary team (m-team) which will include the parent.
The school must provide a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).
- The categories for eligibility are: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment including blindness.
- Children aged 3-9 with developmental delays may be eligible.
A team, which includes professionals and the parents, will develop and review an IEP each year.
- The education will be at no cost to the parents and meet the unique needs of the child's disability, meet other state educational standards, and are consistent with an individualized educational program (IEP).
The child has the right to be placed in the least restrictive environment when appropriate as determined during the IEP team meeting.
- An IEP should include measurable goals that will meet areas of need as determined by an evaluation.
- The IEP should also include performance goals that are consistent with the state's goals and standards.
Prior written notice must be given to the parents at least ten days before any changes, evaluations or placements are made. Parents may waive this if they choose.
An individualized evaluation will be conducted using appropriate (technically sound and unbiased) assessments and with parental consent. Reevaluations must be conducted at least every three years.
Parents have the right to contest any placement or evaluations. Local education agencies must provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child. Disputes can be resolved through mediation, impartial due process hearings, appeal of hearing decisions, and/or civil action.
- The least restrictive environment begins with the regular classroom with the students peers. The more hours of special education services the student receives, the more restrictive the environment.