Background on Children with Special Needs and Public Education
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 1975 was most recently revised in 2004 (and, in fact, renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, but most people still refer to it as IDEA). The law mandates that the State provide all eligible children with a free and appropriate public education that meets their unique individual needs. This enables you to be a powerful advocate for your child.
What is a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE)? (24)
Each word in this phrase is important, but “appropriate” is the one that relates specifically to your child who has special needs. Your child is entitled to an education that is tailored to his or her special needs and a placement that will allow them to make educational progress.
Although you and your child’s teachers or therapists may want to provide your child with the best or optimal program and services, the school district is not required to provide the best or optimal but rather an appropriate education. One of the challenges here is working with the school district to determine what is appropriate and, therefore, what will be provided for your child. This is a collaborative process that may involve negotiation to secure the services from the school.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 established non-discrimination requirements for all Federal agencies and for all State and local programs that receive or use federal money. Section 504 requires that the school develop a plan of reasonable accommodations for the child who has a disability, but may not meet the criteria or need special education supports and services under the Individuals with Education Act (IDEA).