Know Your Rights
The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) guarantees a free and appropriate education to millions of students with special needs. The IDEA requires schools, among other things, to identify and evaluate students who are eligible for special education, provide individualized educational programs (IEPs) for these students, and update the students’ programs at least once a year to meet their changing needs. Schools must educate students with special needs alongside their nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible and provide the support and services that enable them to progress. Some students who do not qualify for special education under the IDEA may be entitled to accommodations under a disability law known as the Rehabilitation Act.
The IDEA also protects the rights of parents of children with special needs. Schools must provide parents of children entering the special education system with a complete explanation of their rights under IDEA. The law guarantees parents an essential role in the education of their children, including the right to participate in all decisions relating to educational programming and to accept or decline any part of a district’s proposal. Parents are entitled to request evaluations, convene team meetings, seek an impartial mediation or hearing, and initiate other steps in the special education process. Families should become familiar with their rights and with the procedural safeguards available to protect those rights under the IDEA and other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, No Child Left Behind, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the Assistive Technology Act.