Education Law

Photo of a school

Education law concerns the collection of laws and rules that govern the operation of education systems in the United States. Education law also concerns the principles and government policy making in the realm of education.

Education: An Overview

Education, as a government function, is administered through the public school system by the Department of Education. States, however, have primary responsibility for the maintenance and operation of public schools. The Federal Government, having an interest in education, created The National Institute of Education to improve education in the United States. Issues that arise under education law include:

  • Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and/or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
  • Discrimination in Education, on the basis of (discussed more lengthily below) race, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, or other civil rights violations.
  • Special Education, which gives disabled children equal access to the education system, and allows them special accommodations in order to help them succeed in doing so.
  • Education Reform, the constantly-evolving movement toward the goal of improving public education in the best interest of students and teachers.

Education Law: The Rules

State constitutions require each state to provide a school system where children may receive an education. State legislatures exercise power over schools, consistent with the state’s constitution, but usually delegate power to a state board of education.

Let’s go over some basics:

Education law is the legal discipline that covers all issues pertaining to schools and public education. From kindergarten through higher education, it is responsible for:

  • Protecting the rights of students, teachers, and staff,
  • Maintaining school safety, preventing discrimination,
  • Seeing that the conduct and discipline of both staff and students is in accordance with the law and school policies,
  • Planning appropriate curriculums and providing necessary amenities to fulfill those curriculums,
  • Providing educational options.

Education law governs the liability, curriculum standards, testing procedures, school finance, student financial aid, constitutional rights (such as the bounds of student expression on school grounds) and school safety. In the last several decades, public education has seen substantial legal changes, and as such, the nature of education law is constantly evolving to either meet or enforce those changes. Most education reform has been led by the states, and each state has different laws in this area. There are, of course, federally-enforced education reforms that affect public schools in every state, such as the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” Act (NCLB) which was enacted to improve teacher and school accountability for students’ school performance across the entire US.

Private Schools

Education law also submits that the guardians of attending students have the fundamental right to direct the education of their children, including the right to choose for their children to go to a private school. But how do private school policies interact with federal policies? In most cases, if the private school hasn’t directly received federal funds, they are not required to follow these laws. However, states may still have the power to regulate private schools if, for instance, the school in question received funds in some amount in order to provide scholarships for private school tuition, fees, and transportation expenses for students who meet certain eligibility criteria based upon education law. If a private school has received direct federal funds for such a case, that school may be subject to federal regulation, should actions of the private school warrant them for lawful conduct overview.

The Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974

This EEO Act was an amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and came into effect when school boards in the United States were involved in court-required busing of students to desegregate schools. In the amendment, Congress grants–in expansive language–that equal educational opportunity were undermined by the nominally restricted definition of segregation in the EaSE Act. EEOA, on the other hand, explicitly defines that no state shall deny equal educational opportunity to any individual on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin in schools and institutions of higher learning. Additionally, the Act permits the United States to intervene in pending suits alleging discrimination. Should a school be found guilty of violating equal educational opportunity, it would face immediate exclusion from and the denial of benefits in programs or activities receiving federal funds.

Special Education: How Does It Help?

Special education laws give children with disabilities, including their parents, important rights. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that gives families of special education children (up to the age of 26) the right to:

  • Have their children assessed or tested to determine special education eligibility and needs
  • Inspect and review school records relating to their child
  • Attend an annual “individualized education program” (IEP) meeting and develop a written IEP plan with representatives of the local school district
  • Resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.

Special ed law also calls for guardians to be an integral part of their education, to aid with–but not limited to–the children’s attitudes toward school, their social skills and behavior, and the likelihood that they will take more challenging classes and succeed in them. IDEA guarantees the guardians of disabled students the following rights:

  • To participate in meetings related to the evaluation, identification, and educational placement of their child, which may typically be the responsibility of the school administrative board or faculty;
  • To participate in meetings related to the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to their child, which protects the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance;
  • To be members of any group that is deciding whether their child is a “child with a disability” and meets the criteria for special education and related services;
  • To be members of the team that develops, reviews, and revises the individualized education program (IEP) for their child. The IE program is designed to address each child’s unique learning style in order to reach specific educational goals, providing educational support and services to help reach those goals (additionally, if the guardian/s cannot attend an IEP meeting, the school must use other methods to ensure their participation, including individual or conference calls).

That being said,  the rest–whether to participate, how much to participate–is up to you.

Moreover, it is the school district’s responsibility, once a guardian has alerted administration, to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities. IDEA defines “children with disabilities” as individuals between the ages of three and twenty-one with one or more of the following conditions:

  • Mental Retardation
  • Hearing Impairment (deafness included)
  • Speech or Language Impairment
  • Visual Impairment (blindness included)
  • Serious Emotional Disturbance
  • Orthopedic Impairment
  • Autism
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Specific Learning Disability
  • Other Health Impairment

In addition to the above disabilities, there must also be evidence that a non-specified disability adversely affects a child’s educational performance, in which event they may still qualify for special education under IDEA. Following the “educational goal” track expressed by IEP, From the time a child is found eligible for special education, he or she must should be reevaluated every three years in order to determine if any changes to their IEP program are in order, including either deeper inclusion in special education programs, or the transition to a schedule populated by more typical classes.

Do You Have A Question About Education Law?

It’s important to discuss questions pertaining to education law with a lawyer. Education law can be a very confusing and stressful field to navigate. This is understandable, as questions regarding education law usually deal with a family member. Still, everyone has a right to understand their rights in education law.

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