Your legal rights United States

The cornerstone of all federal special education legislation in the United States is Public Law 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act. It was amended in 1990 to PL 101-476 and called IDEA—The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and then re-authorized in 1997. The major provisions of this legislation are the following:

• All children, regardless of disability, are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and necessary related services.

• Children will receive fair testing to determine if they need special education services.

• Schools are required to provide a free and appropriate public education through an individually designed instructional program for every eligible child. An amendment to 94-142, called Public Law 99-457, requires early intervention programs for infants and toddlers at risk.

• Children with disabilities will be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE), usually with children who are not disabled.

• Parents can challenge the decisions of the school system, and disputes are resolved by an impartial third party.

• Parents of children with disabilities participate in the planning and decisionmaking for their childs special education.

Of course, each school district has different interpretations of the requirements of the law, and implementation varies, so you should contact the school superintendent, director of special education, or special education advisory committee to obtain a copy of the school systems procedures for special education (Notice of Parents' Rights). Depending on the district, this document may range from two to several hundred pages. Also write to your state Superintendent of Public Instruction to obtain a copy of the state rules governing special education. To get the address, ask the school principal, a reference librarian, or refer to the resource section of Negotiating the Special Education Maze listed in Appendix D.

There is a time line for the referral process, although it varies in different states. Some school districts take advantage of parents who do not know the state regulations, and they drag out the process. The "Notice of Parents' Rights" explains the time requirements for the referral process.

Children on and off treatment may also be eligible for services and accommodations under the federal Rehabilitation Act (Section 504). Section 504 applies when the child does not meet the eligibility requirements for specially designed instruction, but still needs accommodations to perform successfully in school. For example, a child undergoing chemotherapy might need some special accommodations to address health needs (e.g., use of separate bathroom when neutropenic, different behavior management for prednisone days, water bottle on the desk, different medication administration policies, reduced homework during periods of frequent illness, waiving regular attendance/tardy policies and procedures). A child off therapy with cognitive impairments that do not meet the IDEA requirements might need to have accommodations that eliminate timed tests or provide more time to finish written assignments.

Robbie was diagnosed in January of his kindergarten year. He returned to kindergarten the same day he got out of the hospital. His teacher was wonderful. She moved the desks around in the classroom so that if Robby got tired, she would go get his cot and put it in the center of the classroom so he could lay down and still listen. If a child had a cold, she would move him/her to the other side of the classroom. The kids washed their hands at least four times a day. The teacher's aide would sit in the rocking chair holding Robby if he was sad (prednisone days). Also on prednisone days, Robby was allowed to have his lunch box, which weighed at least ten pounds a day, at his desk, and he could eat all day.

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