What Rights Do Children with Disabilities Have at School?

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News stories involving the treatment of children with disabilities at school are common. Recently, a child with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy had to miss school for three days because his federally mandated classroom aide was out sick and there was no one qualified and available to replace the aide, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. In another story, a complaint has been filed against the North Star Academy, which is part of Newark, New Jersey’s largest charter school network. Per Chalkbeat, an education news website, the complaint alleges that North Star Academy suspended children with disabilities at a much higher rate than kids without disabilities, and that doing so is a violation of the rights of disabled children.

What Are the Laws Regarding the Rights of Children with Disabilities at School?

The rights of children with disabilities are protected by federal law. A few of the most significant of these laws are Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Section 504 attempts to prevent private or public schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against children with disabilities. Under Section 504, schools are required to create and install Individual Health Plans for students with disabilities. For example, if a child has a health-related disability, such as a food allergy, the school must have a plan in place to ensure the child receives immediate medical treatment if he or she has an allergic reaction while at school. Education law is a complex legal area, and an attorney can help you navigate the confusion.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal law that prohibits most private schools and all public schools from discriminating against disabled students. For the most part, children with disabilities are already protected in public schools under IDEA and Section 504, which makes ADA less useful in those types of schools. However, where ADA helps is in private schools that do not receive federal funding, because Section 504 and IDEA often do not apply in those schools.

What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is considered one of the most important of the laws protecting the rights of children with disabilities in school. IDEA ensures disabled children will be provided with a free public education. This includes requiring schools to create an Individualized Education Program for each disabled student.

How Can IDEA Help Children with Disabilities?

There are several benefits the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act provides to children with disabilities. Students with disabilities are provided with special education services, an Individualized Education Program or IEP. This program may include speech therapy, assistance of a one-on-one classroom aide, and counseling. In addition, the parents of children with disabilities are consulted about the school’s educational decisions regarding their child, including requiring the school to get the parents’ consent before making an educational decision regarding their child.

Is My Child Eligible for IDEA?

Not all children with disabilities qualify for benefits under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. To qualify for IDEA, children with disabilities must have one of the following disabilities:

  • Intellectual disability
  • Autism
  • Visual impairment/blindness
  • Hearing impairment
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • A health impairment such as ADHD
  • Deafness or deaf-blindness
  • Multiple disabilities
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Language impairment
  • Speech impairment
  • A special learning disability such as dyslexia

How Can Children with Disabilities Access IDEA?

To access IDEA benefits, children with disabilities must undergo an evaluation for special education. Following the evaluation, the school will hold a meeting to determine if the child is eligible for special education. If the child is eligible for special education, the school along with the child’s parents will create an Individualized Education Program for the child.

If you have questions regarding whether your child is eligible for special education or if your child was the victim of discrimination at school due to his or her disability, you should ask a lawyer what to do regarding the situation. An education attorney can answer your questions and explain the best options for your child and your family going forward.