As a parent of a special needs school-age child, it’s important to understand the legal rights your child is entitled to and the legislation that protects those rights. States are required to ensure a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. There are many important federal and state laws that provide the legal basis for this requirement.
As you begin your journey to navigate special education, it will be helpful to become familiar with and understand key pieces of legislation that protect your child’s educational rights. In this post, we’ll highlight three of the top special education laws (separate and apart from the all-powerful IDEA) that you should know.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires school districts to provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to students with disabilities without discrimination. Section 504 also obligates public elementary and secondary school programs to locate and identify students with disabilities. This is referred to as the “child find obligation” and it must be conducted annually. It is required that the person with the disability or their parent or guardian be notified of the right to FAPE. There is an important overlap to note between the federal section 504 and the New York State IDEA legislation. For example, a student may be considered to have a qualifying disability under Section 504 even though he or she would not be eligible for services under IDEA. Still, that student would be protected against discrimination and IDEA must determine if he or she is eligible for services under Section 504.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act is another important piece of legislation to be familiar with when it comes to special education. This Act extends the protections of 504 to entities that don’t receive federal funds. For some families understanding they are still protected even without federal funds can make going through the motions for better education attainable. This Act has five Titles: two of which extend to school-age children with disabilities. Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by any public entity which includes public schools. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by places of public accommodation by which private schools are included, although private schools run by religious organizations are exempt.
New York Anti-Discrimination Regulation
The third piece of legislation that is important to parents of special needs school children is the New York Anti-Discrimination Regulation. This regulation is specific to New York State Schools and mandates the participation of students with disabilities in school curricula or extracurricular activities without discrimination on the basis of race, sex, marital status, color, religion or national origin and that participation must be in line with their special education needs.
Understanding these three key pieces of legislation are important to you as a parent of a school-aged child with special needs and helps you to be an effective advocate for your special needs child. It also requires educational institutions to make educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, and facilities open and accessible to all students. Armed with this, you can feel confident to defend your child against unfair or discriminatory treatment should you ever suspect such treatment.
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