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Some children experience difficulties in school, ranging from problems with concentration, learning, language, and perception to problems with behavior and/or peer relationships. These difficulties may be due to one or more of the following: physical disorders, psychological disorders, emotional problems, behavioral problems, and learning disorders or disabilities.
Children with special needs are usually entitled to receive special services or accommodations through the public schools. Federal law mandates that every child will receive a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. It also entitles children with special needs to receive extra services.
To support their ability to learn in school, Federal laws apply to children with special needs:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the United States. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities, such as serious emotional disturbance, learning disabilities, mental retardation, traumatic brain injury, autism, vision and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, and other health impairments.
IDEA 2004 aligns closely to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act), which reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), calls for "increased accountability for States, school districts, and schools; greater choice for parents and students, particularly those attending low-performing schools; more flexibility for States and local educational agencies (LEAs) in the use of Federal education dollars; and a stronger emphasis on reading, especially for our youngest children." [NOTE: Buried deep within the No Child Left Behind Act's 670 pages is a provision requiring public secondary schools to provide military recruiters not only with access to facilities, but also with contact information for every student -- or face a cutoff of all federal aid.] For more information, read Alignment with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 0f 1973 is a civil rights statute that requires that schools not discriminate against children with disabilities and provide them with reasonable accommodations. It covers all programs or activities, whether public or private, that receive federal financial assistance. Reasonable accommodations include untimed tests, sitting in front of the class, modified homework, and the provision of necessary services. Typically, children covered under Section 504 either have less severe disabilities than those covered under IDEA or have disabilities that do not fit within the eligibility categories of IDEA. Under section 504, any person who has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is considered disabled. Learning and social development are included under the list of major life activities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all educational institutions, other than those operated by religious organizations, to meet the needs of children with psychiatric problems. The ADA prohibits the denial of educational services, programs or activities to students with disabilities and prohibits discrimination against all such students.
Between states, there are different criteria for eligibility, services available, procedures for implementing the Federal laws, and procedural safeguards. It is important for parents to be aware of these laws and regulations in their particular area. Check the specific special education criteria on your state's Family Help page.
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COPAA - The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates ~ An independent, nonprofit organization of attorneys, advocates, and parents established to improve the quality and quantity of legal assistance for parents of children with disabilities.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund ~ DREDF works to advance the civil and human rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy, training, education, and public policy and legislative development.
Education Law Center of Pennsylvania ~ Special education law advocacy center with excellent information and resources.
FAPE - Families and Advocates Partnership for Education ~ Links families, advocates, and self-advocates to information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
National Disability Rights Network ~ NDRN is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the P&A/CAP network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) ~ Information source on disabilities in children and youth, federal law, and research.
The Special Ed Advocate ~ Wrightslaw provides parents, advocates, educators, and attorneys with accurate, up-to-date information about effective advocacy for children with disabilities.
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