Special Education Laws (U.S.)

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Special Education Law came into effect in 1975, with the passing of Public Law 94-142, also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This law required schools to protect the rights of, and provide a free appropriate public education for, all students with disabilities, such as mental retardation, learning disabilities, emotional problems, etc. Prior to this law, many individuals with a mental illness or mental retardation were placed in state institutions, quite often receiving minimal clothing, food and care. Some school districts sent their special needs students to a special education school or encouraged parents to keep their children home.

The four purposes of PL 94-142 are:

- "to assure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs"

- "to assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected"

- "to assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities"

- "to assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities" Source: Education for All Handicapped Children's Act of 1975

In 1983, was the passing of PL 98-199, amendments to the Education of the Handicapped Act. Discretionary programs were reauthorized, parent training and information centers were required, funding was provided to research early intervention (EI), and focus was put on school to work transition. In 1986, further amendments were made under PL 99-457. Services for preschoolers with special needs were mandated. The Part H program was established to assist states in developing a statewide system of EI services for infants.

Then in 1990, the Education of the Handicapped Act, was amended due to national concerns that were being raised. Congress passed PL 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This act reauthorized and expanded the discretionary programs. In addition, transition services were mandated, assistive technology was defined, and "autism" and "traumatic brain injury" were added to the list of qualifying categories.

IDEA continues to be revised from time to time. Under IDEA, a stronger effort has been made to provide a free and appropriate education for all children. Some of the areas that IDEA has focused on are:

1. EI. Early Intervention services provided to eligible infants and toddlers.

2. LRE. Districts are required to provide an education to special needs children in the least restrictive environment. For most students, this means attending the home district school in a partial or full general education setting.

3. High school graduation. There has been a dramatic increase in high school graduation rates, post-secondary enrollment, and employment rates among special needs students.

4. Parents. Strengthening the parents' role in the education process has strongly developed over the years.

5. Diversity. Increased attention is being given to racial, linguistic and ethnic diversity to prevent students being inappropriately classified.

In 2001, H.R.1, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was enacted. Although the act addresses the school's accountability to help needy children, it also touches on issues regarding autism and the special needs community.

Under IDEA, there are very specific guidelines that need to be followed regarding: eligibility, evaluations, FAPE, IEPs, procedural safeguards, financial responsibility, and discipline. Whenever a special education law is implemented or revised, school districts need to devise a plan to implement the new or revised law.

More Information On Special Education Laws

  1. Autism/PDD Resources Network
  2. Council of Educators for Students with Disabilities
  3. Consortium for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education
  4. Disability Rights Advocates
  5. IDEA Practices
  6. Special Needs Advocate for Parents
  7. Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc.
  8. Wrightslaw