Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Public Schools

Equal Rigts for Disabled Children in Public Schools

Built on the foundation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, The Americans With Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, guarantees equal rights, for all Americans suffering from physical or mental disabilities, in such areas as employment, transportation, federal assistance and education. The guidelines of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1975 were retained to provide equal education for children with disabilities.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally known as the Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, requires that public schools offer a free public education to all handicapped children in an environment that is least restrictive based on the child’s individual needs. These specific needs are determined through academic testing, medical diagnosis, and behavioral assessments performed by knowledgeable experts. In a joint meeting of school administrators, special education teachers, psychologists, and parents (others if requested and deemed appropriate), an Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for the child. The IEP encompasses such areas of education as modifications that will be made to adapt course work to the child’s ability, goals for the child’s success in areas of concern, and placement in various levels of inclusion depending on the child’s needs. If parents disagree with the suggested guidelines of the IEP, they have the right to request that it be reviewed by a State or Federal education agency. IEP’s are required to be reviewed annually.

By definition, the “least restrictive environment” means that, whenever possible, based on the needs of the child, the child is to be educated in the same regular education environment as non-disabled children his/her age. The disabled child is not to be placed in specialty schools or removed from regular classrooms unless it is determined that services cannot be adequately provided otherwise.

Not only does IDEA protect the rights of the disabled child, but those of the parent as well. Section 300.504 requires that parents are notified regarding any request for evaluation, scheduled IEP meetings, or re-evaluations. Parents have the right of “informed consen,t” meaning that they are fully informed, understand, and voluntarily agree to the implementation of the IEP guidelines. Parents have the right to review all evaluations and educational records. Parents have the right to confidentiality. No information can be released to anyone else without the prior written consent of the parent. Parents also have the right to be involved in all meetings regarding the education of their disabled child and to seek an independent evaluation if they disagree with the determinations of school.

These laws provide clear cut guidelines which every public school must follow to ensure that every child is given an equal opportunity to receive an appropriate education. Public schools must be sure that these laws are being observed and that quality special education teachers are in place to fulfill the needs of these children.