To understand your child's rights238 in America's public schools, it helps to start with one of the primary laws governing the education of children with disabilities: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-446). IDEIA is a federal law that guarantees a free and appropriate public education for every child with a disability. This means that if you enroll your child in public school, his/her education should be at no cost to you and should be appropriate for his/her age, ability and developmental level. IDEIA is an amended version of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142), passed in 1975. In 2004, IDEIA was reauthorized (P.L. 108-446), further defining children's rights to educational services and strengthening the role of parents in the educational planning process for their children.
Getting a Copy of IDEIA
Copies of the IDEIA law and/or regulations are available from the Government Printing Office or may be available at your public library. Your state senator may also be able to provide you with a copy. Or you can visit the Web site of the Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project, run by the PACER Center and funded by the U.S. Department of Education or the IDEA Partnerships Web site for information on the law and its regulations.
IDEIA has both statutes and regulations. The IDEIA statute is the governing legislation - the language of the law - and the regulations are an explanation of how the law is to be enacted. The law explains what conditions exist; the regulations explain how these conditions are applied.
The No Child Left Behind Act was designed to give all students - including those with disabilities - the opportunity to have an appropriate, high-quality education. It does this by creating a state-by-state accountability system. For students with disabilities, the law requires that their academic progress be measured and reported. As a result, parents of children with disabilities can learn how their children, as a category of students, are achieving compared to their non-disabled peers. While NCLB has many challenges, it has been positive for students with disabilities because children whose progress is measured get taught.
Two other laws governing the educational rights of students with disabilities are the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-380), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (P.L. 93-112).
In brief, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of a student's educational records and outlines inspection and release of information. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act protects the civil rights of persons with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against a person with a disability by an agency receiving federal funds.