Special Education Laws, Impacts

Special education laws have had a substantial impact on bilingual special education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed in 1975 and reauthorized in 2004, governs special education services in public schools. The law protects the rights of students with disabilities and their families and tries to ensure that ELLs are assessed fairly. The law includes numerous provisions outlined below.

1. Informed consent: Schools must obtain written informed consent from parents or guardians to evaluate a student. Parents must be fully informed of their rights, any records to be released and to whom, and the nature and purpose of the evaluation. Parents or guardians must be informed in their native language or primary mode of communication.

2. Multidisciplinary team: Students should be assessed by a team of professionals with varied areas of expertise according to the student’s individuals needs. The team should include at least one general education teacher and one special education teacher. For English language learners, the team should include someone with expertise in the language acquisition process.

3. Comprehensive evaluation: Before an initial placement, the multidisciplinary team must conduct a complete assessment in all areas of suspected disability. No single procedure can be used as the sole criterion for determining an appropriate educational program for a child. Alternative procedures should be used when standardized tests are not considered appropriate (e.g., with culturally and linguistically diverse students). A comprehensive evaluation should include an analysis of the instructional setting and the child’s instructional history.

4. Exclusionary criteria: A student should not be labeled if the academic struggles are primarily the result of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. IDEA 2004 adds that a child should not be found to have a disability if the determinant factor is poor instruction in reading or math, or limited English proficiency.

5. Nondiscriminatory assessment: Assessments should be (a) selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory; (b) provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible; (c) used for the purposes for which the assessments are valid and reliable; (d) administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and (e) administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments.

Making Sure No Child is Left Behind – Education Law Degree

While I do not have a law degree, working in education has allowed me to cross paths with education lawyers on numerous occasions. I found the issues they deal with on a daily basis to be both noble and challenging.

What is Education Law?

Education law deals with schools, school systems and school boards charged with educating children. It is a branch of civil law that encompasses the laws and regulations that govern federal and state education, administration and operation of educational institutions, school athletics and education programs, methods and materials.

What do Education Lawyers do?

Education lawyers work very closely with school faculty, staff, students and administration. They spend their time going over issues such as discipline, suspension, expulsion and discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and disability. Additionally, education lawyer’s deal with questions related to school attendance, authority, civil rights, dress codes, drugs, disability, home schooling, immigrant visas, medical requirements, sexual harassment, and special education rights. As you can see, the span of topics coming across the desk of an education lawyer is impressive.

Careers in Education Law

Given that the span of topic covered by this area of the law is quite broad, so are the career opportunities. With an education law degree you could represent post-secondary educational institutions and institutions of higher learning in a number of different matters. Your clients could include a number of colleges, universities as well as school districts.

While representing these education institutions you would work on issues involving discrimination, disability, financial aid, and accreditation and licensing issues facing schools, staff and teachers/professors. Additionally, you could represent individuals, parents or students as well as teachers, professor and school employees on similar issues.

Job Outlook

Education law, and the lawyers that practice it, will continue to be a part of the education system. They are a necessity tasked with ensuring that every student has a fair and equal access to education.

According to the Department of Labor Statistics, employment of lawyers is expected to grow 11% during 2006-2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The increased demands for legal services will result in increased job opportunities. However, due to a large number of students graduating from law school, competition for jobs is quite intense. Those with strong academic records will have the best job opportunities.

Special Education Law – Overview

Many of us, who went to school not that long ago, remember that being a special needs student meant riding to school in a separate bus and attending one class with other children of varying disabilities. These classes resembled more of a day care than school, and even the most advanced students had little hope of receiving a high school diploma, let alone attend college. Since that time, the term disability, and special needs student, has expanded to encompass much more than a person with an IQ below a certain arbitrary standard. What I have attempted to do in my first article is to give a little history of the evolution of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 1954 the United States Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) which found that segregated schools were a violation of equal protection rights. It would be another twenty years before this concept was applied to children with handicaps, especially learning disabilities, trying to receive an education. In fact, shortly after Brown was decided the Illinois Supreme Court found that compulsory education did not apply to mentally impaired students, and as late as 1969, it was a crime to try to enroll a handicapped child in a public school if that child had ever been excluded.

Due to court challenges in Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in the early 1970’s things started to change. In 1975 Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This was the first law that mandated that all handicapped students had a right to an education. Not only did it mandate that all handicapped students had a right to an education, it also mandated that local educational agencies could be held accountable for not doing so. Shortly thereafter, the term handicapped was replaced with “child with a disability”. Although revised in 1990 as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the most comprehensive changes came in 1997. This law required schools to identify children with disabilities to make sure that all children have available a “free appropriate public education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for employment and independent living” 20 U.S.C. ยง 1401 (d). Unfortunately, the most recent changes in 2004 made the law slightly more difficult to receive the benefits they deserve, which, depending upon the next administration and the make up of Congress may or may not be a trend that will be followed in the future.

Exactly what is a “free appropriate public education”? Under the law, it is defined as “special education and related services that (A) have been provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge: (B) meet the standards of the State educational agency; (C) include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education in the State involved; and (D) are provided in conformity with the individualized education program required under [the law].” In other words, the school must provide services that meet the needs of a child with a disability that may affect their ability to learn. These “related services” can be services that are provided in the classroom, such as giving the child extra time to finish taking tests. They can also encompass services that can be provided outside of the classroom, such as tutoring, or having the child attend either a day or residential program outside of the school, along with transportation.

For the historical data, I relied on Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright and Special Education Law in Massachusetts by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education.