Special education law is a legal framework of education in the United States that guarantees a “free and appropriate public education” to children with disabilities. If the school fails, then the parents can place the child in an appropriate private school and the public school system must pay for the tuition. The primary federal law that protects special needs children is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Special education law also provides a method for balancing parent rights and student rights with school employee rights and school board rights through a due process system.
The federal special education law, IDEA, provides free special education resources to children ages 5 to 21, including an individualized education plan (IEP). These resources include access to assistive technology. For example, if the student needs to type his work because he cannot write effectively as the result of a disability, then the special education law requires the school system to provide the child with a computer. The special education law then provides parents with the opportunity to be involved in each stage of the decision-making process. If the parents do not agree with the decisions of the school system, special education law provides a framework with due process rights for all participants.
A significant development in special education law is the concept of the “least restrictive environment” with respect to school. This means that the disabled child has the right, if at all possible, to be in the classroom with children who are not disabled. Even if the disabled child is unable to be fully integrated into the classroom, the child will still have the least restrictive environment available, such as a partial day in the classroom with periods in the resource room with a special needs professional.
Special education laws have changed dramatically since the 1980s. Amendments to special education laws include early intervention for children from birth, providing services at an earlier age to assist with their later education. Some states provide additional special education laws and rules that give the student greater rights, typically in the form of due process procedures. The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) presents a challenge to special education professionals, because IDEA focuses on providing an education that is tailored to the individual's needs, while NCLB seeks uniformity in assessing students in each grade.