6 Things You Need to Know About State Special Education Laws That Will Empower Your Advocacy!

Are you the parents of a child with Autism or other type of disability who receives special education services? Are you currently having a dispute with your school district related to your child’s education? Would you like to learn about State special education laws and regulations to use in your advocacy? This article is for you and will be discussing these laws,and information that you need to know to empower your advocacy!

1. Every state is required by IDEA 2004 (federal special education law) to have laws and regulations that will show how they will be complying with the law.

2. State regulations cannot “establish provisions that reduce parent’s rights or are otherwise in conflict with the requirements of IDEA and Federal Regulations.” Federal law “trumps” or is stronger than State law. State law can give a parent more rights but cannot take away rights.

3. Many States laws are not consistent with federal laws.

4. Some states have been told that they must change their state regulations to be consistent with federal law. For example: New Jersey stated in their regulations that school districts had the right to test a child in an area that they did not previously test—if a parent asked for an independent educational evaluation at public expense (IEE at public expense). Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) found this inconsistent with IDEA 2004 (300.502). They have required NJ to revise their regulations and until they do so make sure school districts are not evaluating children in an area not previously evaluated before paying for an IEE.

5. Other States regulations are also inconsistent with federal law but have not been told by the U.S. DOE that they must change their regulations. One example is New York who has a regulation that ESY eligibility is only for children with multiple disabilities and/or who show regression and slow recoupment. This is not consistent with federal special education law and may hurt children by denying them needed services. Another example is in my State of Illinois the parent guide states that parents must “request” an IEE before the testing is done. IDEA 2004 states that parents have the right to “obtain” an IEE if they disagree with the schools evaluation. A letter to the Illinois State Board of Education pointing out this inconsistency was answered with this statement “The office plans to review the identified guidance document and initiate any necessary revisions during the summer of 2012. Your information will be considered during the course of that process.” It is now 2014, and I will not be holding my breath for the State of Illinois to revise their parent guide.

6. OSEP policy letters often address inconsistent State laws and regulations! They are great advocacy tools and can be found at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/index.html#topiclisting. I use them all the time to show special educators how the Office of Special Education Programs (at the U.S. DOE) interpret IDEA 2004 and inconsistent State regulations.

By understanding these 6 things about State Special Education Law, your advocacy will be empowered! Good Luck!

Special Education Laws

Special education refers to the education of children with physical disorders or disabilities, psychiatric disorders, emotional distress, behavioral disorders, and learning disorders. Traditional educational techniques or school programs do not sufficiently meet the requirements of these children. Children with special education needs are guaranteed rights to services in schools under federal and state laws. These laws include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA 1997), and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). These laws guarantee special education programs and financial assistance for disabled children and youth in the United States.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 is a federal law that governs all special education services for children in the United States. The major objective of IDEA is to provide free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The IDEA 2004 is a revision or reauthorization of IDEA 1997, which preserves the civil rights guarantees of IDEA 1997, but makes substantial changes regarding how schools determine whether a child has learning disability and needs special education services. Services to very young children, i.e., infants and toddlers, are also covered under the IDEA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights legislative act, which proscribes discrimination against children with disabilities and provides them with reasonable accommodations. Under section 504, any person who has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is considered disabled.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) commands all educational institutions to meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems. In the United States, procedures for the implementation of the Federal laws and procedural safeguards are different in different states and therefore parents should have a good knowledge of the rules and regulations in their particular area. For any assistance, parents can always contact the regional office of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

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.