Educational Rights of Students


    Federal Laws: The most significant federal laws that protect children with disabilities are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, also known as IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

    IDEA was formerly known as the Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA). The law was originally enacted in 1975 to establish grants to States for educating children with disabilities. It has been amended several times, most recently in 1997. IDEA is the law that guides the process for identification, evaluation, classification, and the development of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for children with disabilities who, by reason of their disabilities, require special education and/or related service.

    IDEA '97 is the re-authorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Through IDEA '97, Congress reaffirmed the rights of children with disabilities to receive a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE). IDEA ensures that the rights of children and youth with disabilities are protected. Special Education is defined as specially designed instruction, at no cost to you, to meet your child's unique needs. Special Education also includes related services designed to meet the student's, unique needs (such as speech and language, occupational therapy, physical therapy, transportation, etc.) in order to benefit from special education. Special Education instruction must be provided to students with disabilities in what is known as the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). IDEA requires that students with disabilities be educated with non-disabled students to the maximum extent possible.

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act has been with us since 1973. For many years its main thrust has been in the area of employment for individuals with handicaps and for members of minorities. However, within the last several years, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), the agency charged with enforcement of Section 504, has become pro-active in the field of education of individuals with physical or mental impairments. Advocacy organizations and the legal system like wise have increasingly focused on Section 504's requirements to insure the education system provides the full range of special accommodations and services necessary for students with physical or mental impairments to participate in and benefit from public education programs and activities.

    Section 504 prohibits discrimination against persons with physical or mental impairments, including both students and staff members, by school districts receiving federal financial assistance. This includes all programs or activities of the school district receiving federal funds. Included in the US Department of Education regulations for Section 504 is the requirement that students with physical or mental impairments be provided with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). These regulations require identification, evaluation, provision of appropriate services, and procedural safeguards in every public school in the United States .

    Section 504 protects all handicapped students, defined as those having any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (including learning). Section 504 covers all students who meet this definition, even if they do not fall within the IDEA enumerated categories, and thus they do not need to be in a special education program.

    The determination of what services are needed for such a handicapped student must be made by a group of persons knowledgeable about the student. The group should review the nature of the handicap, how it affects the student's education, whether specialized services are needed, and if so what those services are. The decisions about Section 504 eligibility and services are documented in the student's file and reviewed periodically.

    Another important federal law is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, enacted 1984, (known as The Buckley Amendment or FERPA). It gives all parents of students under 18 years of age and all students, over age 18 years of age or attending post­ secondary schools the right to access to student records. FERPA also protects the confidentiality of student records and, under certain circumstances, gives parents of students under 18 years of age and/or students over 18 years of age the right to a hearing to amend inaccurate or misleading student records.

    The entire FERPA regulations can be found in 34 CFR section 99.1 through 99.67. IDEA's regulations on confidentiality - section 300.560 through 300.576, contain several references to FERPA. You have the right to know your state's policy in regard to the collection, storage, release, and destruction of personally identifiable information (section 300.561). This information is provided in copies of "Procedural Safeguards" which are provided at IEP Meetings or with your invitation to an IEP Meeting. The school district also has a policy on access to student records. To obtain a copy, ask a school administrator.

East student portrait of happy face in multiple colors.