Children diagnosed with special needs disabilities are entitled to receive an appropriate education under both State and Federal laws. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA]), PL 101-476 established four basic rights:
and two protections:
The law mandates that children with disabilities, are entitled to special education and related services at no cost to parents. Special education means that instruction must be designed to meet the unique needs of each child, whether it is delivered in a classroom, home setting, private school, hospital, or institution. A team, consisting of parents (or legal guardians) and members of different professional disciplines decides upon the most appropriate educational plan, taking into account each child's unique needs.
Children have the right to be educated in the least restrictive environment (e.g., the setting that is most like typical education opportunities) and to be educated with children who are not disabled (referred to as "mainstreaming" or "inclusion"). It is the parents and rest of the team who determine the most appropriate educational environment and how much inclusion or mainstreaming is appropriate for each child.
Under the law, each child with a disability must be provided an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IFSP (for infants and toddlers ages birth through 2 years) is a specific plan written with full involvement of the parents. The IFSP is intended to identify concerns, priorities, and resources forearly intervention services. An IEP (for children 3 through 21 years) is a written plan to meet the child's unique educational and related service needs. The IEP is developed after all areas related to the child's suspected disability have been evaluated. This plan serves as a blueprint with specific goals and objectives and educational services that the child is to receive during the school year.
Additional related services required by children in order to benefit from their special education must also be written in their IEP. These may include (but are not limited to), transportation, speech and language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, vision services, special equipment, counseling, and individual instructional assistants. These services must be specified on the written plan, indicating the frequency and duration that they are provided, as well as the qualifications of the staff who deliver them. These services must be implemented by appropriately credentialed and/or licensed staff.
Meetings to review the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) must be held at least annually to evaluate the child's program and progress. Parents may request an IEP meeting at any time to discuss their child's program or progress.
The law provides due process procedures for parents who disagree with any decisions by the professional members of the IEP team. Mediation conferences and formal hearings are available without cost to parents to settle disputes. Formal compliance procedures have also been established when a parent believes that the school has failed to properly implement the child's educational plan.
Parents are advised to work closely with their local school district's special education team. Parents can offer insight into their child's unique talents and special needs and contribute to designing an appropriate education plan.
The school district has an obligation to provide special needs children with a free, appropriate public education. There are many educational options available to such children. These range from classes within the public school to private non-public schools. To secure information about these options, parents are encouraged to contact the Special Education Department within their local public school district.
For those children whose educational needs cannot be met within the public sector, the school district through the IEP process, may be obligated to provide those services at no expense to the parents. Many parents choose to seek the services of a private Educational Therapist.