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.

The Need for Cyber Law Research in Education

Cyber law in education is an issue that is ripe for scholarly research and analysis.  The importance of this topic is growing exponentially with the meteoric rise in social networking and other online forums which are becoming a primary source of interaction among school aged students. One result of these “virtual” relationships is a blurring of the lines of jurisdiction for disciplinary responsibility. At what point do a student’s actions fall outside of the authority of his or her school? When the student uses school equipment on school grounds the analysis is very clear, but case law has created a continuum that defies any objective definition of where that jurisdiction ends. Similarly, at what point does a teacher or administrator’s actions leave the authority of their employer and become protected by their right to privacy? The question of jurisdiction must be addressed before meaningful processes can be implemented to counteract the damage that online actions can have on the school system.

The harms that are caused at the hands of students through cyber actions include marring the reputation of teachers and administrators, harassing other students and threatening the security of testing and other educational information. Similarly, educators often cause harm through their own cyber actions by using online forums in an inappropriate manner to the detriment of their school or district. These actions may compromise the safety and morals of their students and affect the integrity of the educational system itself. Yet any restriction on these actions runs the risk of violating constitutional rights of free speech and privacy. Needless to say, there is a careful and ever-evolving balancing process that needs to be maintained in this area of law. And the decisions of our courts and enactments of our legislatures must be monitored and influenced by educators and education law experts.

The bullying laws that are springing up in local legislatures provide an excellent example of the issues at stake in this field. There is an important responsibility for governments to protect children from this new form of harassment. At the same time, however, in addition to the inevitable first amendment challenges, educators need to have a voice as to the practical limits on building level school personnel in implementing these new laws. These issues present a fascinating intersection of legal issues that will only become more relevant and topical in the decades to come. 

Research and analysis will be important in normalizing policy in the field. Ultimately statutory enactments and case decisions will  provide the law on these subjects.  However, these statutes and decisions are by no means immutable.  Like any other area of law, they evolve and change over time.  And these shifting principles are all the more prevalent in a field of law that is in its infancy such as this one.  There are no long-standing seminal court decisions on the topic, nor is there any conventional wisdom with respect to a proper statutory framework.  Therefore, in this field more than any other that I can think of within education law, there is a need for scholarly research and publication to help organize and shape the developing legal trends.

Education Law in the 21st Century

While it is not an area of law in which a great many cases are undertaken, the cases and issues that end up arising and being litigated in the education law area tends to prove to be very significant. This has been the history of education law and remains the reality in this day and age. Through this article you are provided an overview of some of the more significant and transitory issues associated with education law in this day and age.

A good many of the cases that have arisen in the education law arena have centered on equal access to educational opportunities based upon issues pertaining to ethnicity, race, sex and religion. Some of the most significant issues pertaining to education law have involved access to educational experiences by people of minority races. Of course, the most significant case in this regard actually was handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1959. The case of Brown vs. Board of Education brought an end to the concept of “separate but equal”, which guided educational systems across the United States.

Although the Brown case was handed down by the Supreme Court many years ago, there remain issues that still arise when it comes to making sure that minority students have an appropriate access to educational opportunities in the country. For example, many school districts became embroiled in cases involving the busing of students to achieve racial equality when it came to educational systems, only in recent times have attendant issues been resolved.

Some of the newer issues and cases involving race, sex and related issues and education law have centered on access to scholarships and other educational financing opportunities. There are still cases that arise in which a contention is made that certain financing options are not fully available to all individuals.

Most recently, many of the cases involving education law issues have involved individuals with physical or other types of impairments. The goal in regard to these cases is to work to ensure that educational opportunities are made regularly and fully available to people no matter their physical status. (Related cases also center on individuals who have some sort of intellectual or mental health issue as well.)

Finally, another active area in education law in this day and age involves public school financing. First of all, there are cases that center upon working to ensure that all public school systems in a particular state are fairly funded. Second, there are cases and issues that focus upon the funding of private school educational experiences. Legislative leaders have also found themselves involved in developing new laws to attempt to deal with these two types of issues in more recent years – a trend that is expected to carry forth into the future.

There remain lawyers in business today who are specializing in education law. More often than not these attorneys are most frequently involved in ensuring that people have an even and equal access to appropriate and meaningful educational opportunities.