Legal Rights of Students With Disabilities


Children with disabilities make up a group of the population, requiring special education services. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was enacted under the administration of President Ford in 1975, has become a significant base for guaranteeing the special educational services to children with disabilities. On the basis of IDEA and its subsequent amendments, students with disabilities have been provided with legal rights, ensuring that their special educational needs are met (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).


This act, adopted by President Ford in 1975, soon became the law, protecting the rights of disabled children and their parents in the United States of America. Though signed in 1975, it came into practice in 1979 in the various states that make up the United States of America. Currently, IDEA works along with the No Child Left Behind Act to guarantee that every student is the beneficiary of free and appropriate public education (FAPE) that is provided in an environment that is not restrictive to the development of the children. The initial version of this act (Education for all Handicapped Children Act) can be subdivided into six parts: FAPE, Parent Participation, IEP (Individualized Education Plan), LRE (Least Restricted Environment), Assessment, and the Due Process.

Free and Appropriate Public Education

This part gives instructions to the local authorities about the implementation of the program, in particular, the number of students, receiving help from the state. This was the first time that such a program in support of children with disabilities was being implemented, and hence the states required a plan of action for the implementing IDEA to provide the maximum benefits to the targeted segment of population. According to this act of legislation, children with disabilities are entitled to receive free and appropriate education, which suits their needs and demands. It should be mentioned that IDEA Act does not imply that every individual with disability can receive such financial aid; however, the number of children, fitting into this category is constantly increasing, approximately at ten per cent rate. The original version of this act, adopted in 1975 applied only to school education. Allocating the grants, the government has to take into considerations the following factors: first, the number of people from 5 to 21, who live under poverty level and have disability or disabilities. Initially, not every disability could make the child eligible for special education. Original act included such impairments as poor vision, mental retardation, deafness, autism, etc, but further amendments continued this list. (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).

Parent Participation

The original version of IDEA gives parents (legal guardians) right to participate take part in the decision-making. School administration has to consider their opinion, while deciding on placement, or assessment of the child. Moreover, they have to consult them while developing individualized education plans for the child. Parents must be informed about every decision that school administration makes, and provided with access to the childs records.

Individualized Education Plan

IEP (or Individualized Education Plan) is based on the evaluation of the childs cognitive skills and content knowledge in various subjects. As a rule, IEP team includes educators, parents, social workers, and psychologists. In theory, IEP has to comprise all subjects, taught at school with certain changes to the assessment criteria..It is supposed that a child with a disability will be able to meet the standards, set by the federal educational institutions and join college or university after graduation from school (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).

Due Process

IDEA gives the following safeguards, especially concerning the rights of parents. They are entitled to gain access to the educational records of their child. As it has already been mentioned they are included in the IEP Team, and considered equal members of this committee. They have right to propose amendments to their child’s education plan, if they believe that such amendments are necessary. Furthermore, parents can make complaints regarding the program. Such complaints have to be given due consideration, with adequate action. In case of dissatisfaction on the action taken, parents retain the right to approach the state courts. According to IDEA, if parents disagree with the school’s assessment of their child state, they can receive independent evaluation. Parents must also be informed about every decision, regarding their child’s progress or the implementation of IEP plan. (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).


The evaluation of child’s physical and mental state is one of the most important points of IDEA. This assessment is performed by IEP; it has to take into account the following factors, the level of child’s academic performance, his cognitive and communication skills (including the proficiency in English). In addition to that, the committee has to ascertain the level of his or her vulnerability. It is necessary to determine whether the impact of peers can have adverse effects on his personality or not. However, IDEA suggests that every student with a disability should be placed in the least restricted environment. The results of this evaluation are the basis for tailoring his or her individual education plan. If parents disagree with the schools evaluation, they can request independent assessment. (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).

Least Restricted Environment

One of the main purposes of IDEA is to provide children with disabilities to the general curriculum and not separate them from their peers. While deciding on the individualized education plan, the committee must determine whether a child will be able to study together and interact with his or her peers. The IEP team has to evaluate the childs cognitive skills and the level of his vulnerability. If the disability does not prevent the child from studying with his or her non-disabled peers, certain accommodations, facilitating learning process, should be made. If it is necessary, the child should be given alternative tasks, but he or she should meet educational standards.

IDEA Reauthorizations

  • PL 99-457 Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments (1986)

These amendments, extended by October 1991 free appropriate public education (FAPE) to every child between the age of three and five to every state that wanted to be a participant and all the fifty states opted to participate (Education Law).

  • PL 101-476 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1990)

In essence, this Act removed the word handicapped and introduced the word disabilities in its place, thus renaming children with handicaps as children with disabilities and the handicap acts as disability acts. It also expanded the services for students with disabilities, provided the service of assistive technologies, and enhanced the inclusion of children with disabilities in community schools through least restrictive placement (Education Law).

  • PL 105-17 (1997)

This Public Law gives clarity to the educational objectives for each child and the services that can be expected towards these goals. The Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for each child would have to relate more closely with the general curriculum in regular classes. In addition, it also gave greater involvement of parents or guardians in IEP decisions, eligibility, participation, and placements. It also encouraged the placing of these children in regular classrooms instead of different settings (PL 105-17: Old IDEA, New Law).

  • IDEA 2004: PL 108-446

This Public Law made it mandatory for certification and licensing for Special Education teachers to enhance the quality of education provided to children with disabilities. To support the professional development of these teachers, the law enhanced to 100% from 75% as under IDEA 1997, of all State Improvement Grant Money be made available towards professional development (Summary of Key Sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 Public Law 108-446).

Pre-referral interventions

These are interventions attempted on students with disabilities in regular classrooms with the aim of improving their learning ability, before they are referred for special education evaluation. Among them, we can single out the following ones: setting individualized assessment criteria, giving alternative tasks Schools are also obliged to provide such children with teachers, who are competent for dealing with adverse learners. (IDEA Terms to Know).

Multi-disciplinary team

Disabilities in children stem from both physical as well as psychological origins. Evaluation of learning abilities in a child with disabilities is multi-dimensional and requires a team of professionals knowledgeable about the child’s disabilities or suspected disabilities to make the necessary evaluation relevant to the special needs of the child (The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents).

Norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests

Norm-referenced tests attempt a comparison between a child and peers with the objective of determining whether the child suffers from any disability and to evaluate skill levels. In contrast, the criterion-referenced test attempts to find out the mastery of child over a specific skill by the comparison to a standard of mastery, and does not seek a comparison with peers. Criterion-referenced tests assist in finding out the educational needs of a child, and helps in determining special education programming and placement (IDEA PROTECTIONS).

Individualized Education Plan

The individualized education program (IEP) is a written document for each child with a disability that is created, reviewed and revised in keeping with the guidelines of IDEA by the multidisciplinary team and the parents or guardians of the child (IDEA Terms to Know).

Literary References

  1. Education Law.
  2. IDEA Terms to Know.
  3. PL 105-17: Old IDEA, New Law.
  4. Summary of Key Sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 Public Law 108-446. 2005.
  5. The Rights of Disabled Children, Their Education & Their Parents. 2006.
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