Student and Parental Rights
Legal Protection for Children with Disabilities
Navigating the United States education can be difficult, especially for children who require special education. There are a number of recourses and services available to help both children and parents to enjoy the same fair treatment as any other student, including specific rights outlined under the law.
The key laws that protect the rights of special needs children and their parents include:
- Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE)
Rights Under IDEA
The majority of protections for children with disabilities and their parents fall under IDEA. This is a federal law that ensures each child, no matter their condition, receives a proper education. While this law applies to all 50 states, each state may interpret the law differently and have specific provisions on how it is implemented.
Broadly speaking, IDEA provides special needs children with:
- The right to a free and public education (FAPE) until the child is 21-years-old
- The right to an education in the least restrictive environment (LRE)
- The right to an education in both academic matters and life-skills
- The right to specific accommodations that may assist in their education
- The right to assisted technology
- The right to a free evaluation
Parents also have a right to:
- Access their child’s school records
- Participation in their child’s education process, both in planning and implementation
- Consent, or to deny consent, for the school’s decision regarding their child’s education
- Understandable language, including written material in your native language that clearly explains the school’s actions and their rights under state and federal laws
Modifications of IDEA in 2004 have also expanded the legal protection and processes regarding transition plans, including Individual Education Programs.
Rights During the IEP Process
In addition to generalized rights to an education, your child and you are awarded key rights during the development, planning, and implementation of an Individual Education Program (IEP). These rights include:
The Right to be Involved in an IEP: IEP’s cannot be developed without the involvement of a parent. In addition, children have the right to participate in IEP meetings, but may choose not to.
The Right to a Second Opinion: You may request an evaluation by a third-party specialist, although this may not be covered under state or federal funding for your IEP.
The Right to Mediation: If you disagree with a school’s decision, such as changes in funding or how an IEP is implemented, a meeting with a third-party may be scheduled to discuss the matter. When these meetings do not result in a firm resolution, then you may file for a due process hearing to contest the school’s decision.
The Right to “Stay Put”: During the mediation and due process hearing, your child’s IEP will not be affected until a decision is made.
The Right to Reimbursement: If the school is unable to provide specific resources for your child’s education, you may choose to have your child transferred to a private school and the school may be required to pay for the tuition, though this is subject to a due process hearing.
Additional Laws and Protections
While IDEA provides the most specific rights to children with special needs, there are additional laws that protect the rights of disabled individuals, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act (ABLE).
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is one of the earliest pieces of legislature with regard to disabled rights. For students, it
provides the basic civil rights to an education and freedom from discrimination within the school system on the basis of a disability. It allows children access to federal financial aid and assistance within the classroom, including adjustments made to seating arrangements or modified class assignments.
Alongside the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, ADA requires public schools to provide proper accommodation for disabled individuals, including students who have either a physical or psychiatric disorder that may limit them within the classroom. Like the first two acts, ADA is designed to prevent discrimination within and outside of the classroom.
Lastly, ABLE is primarily a financial program that allows a disabled individual to save up for specific expenses while also receiving federal funding. Generally, funding for disabilities requires that the recipient have a limited income that justifies the federal benefits, however, ABLE provides an exception. Under this act, disabled individuals may apply for federal funding and earn an income that goes towards their medical or psychiatric expenses at the same time.
Defending the Rights of Disabled Families in Public School Systems
The laws that protect disabled students and their families are broad and may overlap at times, which can make it difficult for families to know when their rights are being violated. Our legal team at Woodsmall Law Group have first-hand experience protecting the rights of disabled families in California. If you feel that your rights as a parent or your child’s rights are being violated, do not hesitate to contact us at (626) 440-0028. We assign two attorneys to each case to ensure that every aspect of the law is thoroughly reviewed and all your needs are taken care of.