Special Education: A Parent’s Guide to Becoming an Advocate

The following will provide a simple, yet comprehensive overview for parents regarding laws and regulations affecting the education of your child who may be impaired by a disability. Parental awareness of a child’s special needs is the best way for the child to advance expectations and achieve maximum potential. Special education laws and regulations are designed to protect and provide for students with disabilities and ensure that they receive the proper services and necessary assistance for a meaningful educational experience. This section will help families understand and appreciate key concepts and procedures and be an effective advocate for their child in the special education process.

As a parent you know what is best for your child. Knowledge of your child’s special education rights will best ensure that their unique needs are met. As a parent you need to be aware of laws, regulations, and school procedures impacting your child’s access to the general curriculum prescribed by the school district. The following will provide you with an overview of specific federal laws, such as the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Connecticut state law pertaining to special education. Such legislation protects students with disabilities and ensures they receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). Being an active voice on the Planning & Placement Team (PPT) and providing valuable input to formulate your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) will impact your child’s future success.

This guide will provide you with the essential knowledge and tools to optimize your child’s educational opportunities. Each child is different and you may want to consult an attorney to ensure that your child’s educational requirements are properly assessed and fully met.

What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted by Congress in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This legislation is the foundation for the imposition upon Boards of Education of legal obligations regarding special education. IDEA requires that “all children with disabilities have available a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living…”[1]

IDEA defines FAPE as “free appropriate public education,”  which means special education and related services that:

  1. have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
  2. meet the standards of the State educational agency;
  3.  include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education in the State involved; and
  4. are provided in conformity with the individualized education program.

IDEA provides that your public school district, referred to in IDEA as the local education agency or LEA, be responsible for ensuring that each child with a disability within their district receives special education and related services designed to meet their unique individual needs. In view of the varying needs of each child impaired by a disability, no specific standard is established to determine if the school district is providing an “appropriate” education. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the definition of FAPE in Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, where it held that a school district did not have to provide a full-time sign language interpreter as a necessary part of an appropriate public education program. The school district’s only obligation was to meet the requirements of the IDEA and provide individual instruction intended to confer a “reasonable educational benefit, not maximum educational opportunities” to children with disabilities.[2]

The word “free” means that the cost of providing special education and related services is the responsibility of the public school district in which the child resides and cannot be passed along to a child’s parent. FAPE is an unqualified right and a school district will not be excused because of expense from providing specific special education needs to a particular child. While your child’s disability may not be covered under the IDEA, it may be covered under Section 504 of another federal law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 is a civil rights statute that protects the rights of persons with disabilities participating in programs and activities, such as public schools, that receive federal financial assistance. You should consult one of our attorneys at Maya Murphy P.C. to determine whether, or to what extent, your child falls under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or the Rehabilitation Act.


 

[1] 20 U.S.C.A. §1400(d).
[2] Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982).

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