Special education rights are worth the fight.
Back in 1974, a majority of the well over 3.5 million children with disabilities in the United States were denied meaningful inclusion in public education. A federal study at the time found that nearly half of disabled children were totally excluded from public schools. Many were institutionalized or kept at home and never educated. The rest were either placed in grossly inadequate, segregated classrooms or in regular classrooms devoid of much needed support.
Thankfully, the situation is different today: Resources are available to children with disabilities and their parents. But definitive action and legal assistance are often needed to assert and obtain guaranteed rights.
One federal law guides every aspect of the provision of special education and related services. This law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly called the IDEA. The IDEA provides benefits and protections to disabled children and their parents.
The primary purpose of the IDEA is to make available to every child with a disability a free appropriate public education. A free appropriate public education means special education and related services that are provided at public expense and without charge, meet state educational standards, include preschool through secondary education, and conform with an Individual Education Program (IEP). Such an educational program is intended to help children succeed in school and prepare them for the world beyond.
A child's IEP is a written document that acts the roadmap as to how the school will provide a child with a free appropriate public education. The process of developing the IEP, with parents as full and equal participants with school personnel, determines exactly what services the child will receive.
A student's special education is much more than just academics. Under the IDEA, a student's educational needs are broadly construed to include the student's social, health, emotional, academic, communicative, physical and vocational needs.
Unfortunately, disagreements often arise between parents and schools: Parents and school personnel may disagree as to the appropriate placement for a child; or the child's IEP may indicate that he or she is to receive physical therapy, but none was provided; or a school district may find a child ineligible for special education even though the child is reading far below grade level.
In order to secure an appropriate education guaranteed under the law, and by the compassionate foresight embodied in the IDEA, parents can turn to help from independent evaluators, advocates, and special education attorneys.