Special education: a practical primer
Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as what to expect, when you enroll your child in special education.
By GreatSchools Staff
In this guide you'll learn about the basics of special education, your child's rights, and how an individualized education program (IEP) is created.
What rights does special education law provide?
The most important federal law governing special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The goal of the act is to ensure a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) for children with disabilities. It was passed in 1975 and updated in 1997 and 2004. The current act is officially called the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, but most people call it IDEA 2004.
Before the passage of the law, most schools placed special education students in self-contained special day classes. Many students were enrolled in special schools rather than in their neighborhood schools. Some students would eventually be "mainstreamed," or moved into general education classes, if they showed sufficient progress and evidence that they could keep up with those classes.
But IDEA influenced many schools to rethink their basic approach to special education. The law requires schools to educate all students in what is known as the "least restrictive environment." Thus many schools practice "inclusion," which involves educating special needs students in the schools and classrooms they would otherwise attend, to the maximum extent appropriate. It involves bringing special services to the child in the regular classroom rather than "pulling out" the student to receive special services. Proponents of inclusion believe that students belong first in the regular education environment because it is often better for students socially and academically. They believe students should be removed from that environment only when necessary services can't be provided in that environment.
Most schools strike a balance between teaching special education students in regular education classrooms when possible and pulling them out for portions of the day to work with a specialist in what's usually called the "resource room."
- You have the right for your child to receive the services and aids she needs to facilitate her placement in a regular education classroom.
- You have the right to have your child taught with nondisabled students to the maximum extent appropriate for both. This includes participation in nonacademic activities.
- You have the right to have your child kept in the general education environment until supplemental aids and services have been tried and determined insufficient.
- You have the right to have your child stay in the school he would regularly attend unless the IEP states otherwise.