Special Education Legal Framework


  Special education programs are mandatory in America for all children with disabilities. Congress mandated provision of special education in 1975 through passing the EAHCA which was later changed, strengthened and renamed IDEA (Individual with Disabilities Act). IDEA warrants all students to a free and appropriate education in an unrestrictive environment. This act mandates all states to provide special education as a condition of receiving federal grants. IDEA stipulates that all physically challenged students must receive special education services in their respective district schools between the ages of 3 to 18 years. This act lists various categories that a student must meet to be considered as disable. Disable students in America receive special programs depending on their needs. The IDEA legal framework, initially the EAHCA, has gone through a lot of evolution and was formulated to alleviate the pervasive discrimination against the physically challenged students.


 The history of special education programs in the country can be traced back to 1893. During the late 18th century and for a better part of the 19th century, excluding students with disabilities was the norm. There was a widespread misconception that such students were better kept away from the society. This is exemplified in the ruling of a Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1893. This ruling upheld the action of a school in the state to expel a student due to poor academic performance. In a another example of exclusion, a Wisconsin Supreme Court denied education to a student suffering from cerebral palsy under the pretext that he created a depressing environment to students and teachers (Smith, 2004). These are just few examples of the wide spread segregation of learners with disabilities.

 The first court case to challenge the segregation of physically challenged students actually addressed racial discrimination. The Brown v. Board ruling of 1954 created the foundation of special education programs in the country. According to Smith (2004), the Brown decision created a precedent that barred racial segregation in the education sector since it infringed the right of equal education opportunity. This decision led to the growing understanding that all citizens have a right to education irrespective of their race, gender, intelligence or disability. Funding of special education programs increased after the Brown decision. However, as Smith (2004) illustrates, school districts had the right to choose whether to provide the special education programs or not throughout the 1960s.

 Historical Background of Special Education

 It was not until 1965 when the federal government began disbursing funds to district schools for public education. The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act heralded this new development. An amendment of the act in 1966 set aside funds specifically for the funding of physically challenged students (Yell, Drasgow, Bradley, & Justesen, 2004). The rehabilitation Act of 1973 outlawed the segregation of disable children from any educational program that receive federal funding whether private or public. To prevent discrimination among schools that do not receive federal funding, congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that required all school districts to comply with the non-segregation policy.

 However, despite the new developments until the 1970s, many children with disabilities were inappropriately educated by undergoing programs that did not match their needs. Pulliam & Van Patten (2006) explain that other children were still discriminated against in the public school settings. There was need to correct the situation despite the developments made. A change milestone was achieved in the evolution of special education programs when President Ford signed the EAHCA legislation currently known as the IDEA. Special education programs now became the legal right of all children with disabilities. The IDEA is the hallmark of the legal framework of special education programs today in the country. According to IDEA, all students with disabilities must have access to IEP and FAPE under the least restrictive learning environments (Pulliam & Van Patten, 2006).

 The next milestone in the evolution of the legal framework for special education programs was in 1982 when the US Supreme Court ruled on its first special education case. The court ruled that students with disabilities must have access to public schools programs that satisfy their educational needs. In addition, the court ruled that the programs were to be accompanied by services that enable the students benefit fully from the instructions issued. The court further ruled that children with disabilities were eligible for well calculated IEP aimed at facilitating their learning outcomes.

 Although the IDEA resulted to an increase in the number of physically challenged students who received special education programs, the act failed to address the quality of education received by these students. As Thurlow (2000) explains, despite the increase in the number of students undergoing the special education programs, only 10% participated in the statewide assessment programs. This disparity led to the amendments in the IDEA legislation to emphasize on quality in addition to access of special education. These amendments demanded for a mandatory reporting of the progress of a child to the parents. Currently, the NCLB Act and IDEA 2004 provide the framework for special education programs. The NCLB Act aims to increase the achievement of disable students. Both these legislations emphasize on the importance of special education to produce results. These legislations mandates the inclusion of research-based programs as well as the monitoring of students’ progress.

 Legal Framework Difference among Regular and Special Needs Students

 The legal framework for that govern education for both regular and special needs students are slightly different. Laws for special needs students have specific amendments that addresses the special needs of these students. Russo (2009) elaborates that laws such as IDEA and NCLB require that district schools tailor their programs to meet the special needs of these students. These laws mandate these schools to provide support services to accompany the provided programs that can ensure that students can perceive the instructions provided to them. Depending on their needs, disable students may receive services in a special school, resource centers or in a self-contained classrooms. As a result, is the legal duty of district schools to examine the needs of students with disabilities and ensure that there are programs that can satisfy their educational requirements. Therefore, unlike laws for regular students, the legal framework for special students mandates schools to tailor their programs in order to meet the specific needs of the disables students. Such provisions are unlike the legal framework for regular students where schools have the right to choose which programs to provide for their students.

 Another notable difference pertains to parents’ involvement in the education of their children. Special education laws such as IDEA and NCLB all require the involvement of parents in the education of children with disabilities (Yell, Drasgow, Bradley, & Justesen, 2004). Parents have an active say in the types of programs their children undergo under special education programs. These laws allows for the inspection of these programs by the parents, education officials, teachers and other relevant stakeholders. Parents can recommend the inclusion of services that are suitable for their children with disabilities. Besides, they can also reject the education services offered should they feel it does not meet the needs of their children. Apart from approving the programs, parents also have a huge role in compiling the monitoring reports of children with disabilities. Parents determine the objectives of special needs education and how to evaluate them while monitoring the progress of these students. Parents’ involvement in the educational programs for physically challenged students is in contrast with education under the regular education program where parents do not determine the choice and types of educational programs offered to their students. Under the regular education curriculum, parents and students choose among the different programs offered to them.

 Whereas the legal framework for regular education curriculum mandates students to sit for statewide assessments, it is not mandatory for the students with disabilities to do these assessments. For a long time, the number of disabled students doing the national assessment tests has been very low. As a result, the accountability for these students has been very low. This is due to the legal framework that do not emphasize on the need to do the assessments among students with disabilities. However, recent laws such as the IDEA and the NCLB aim to change this scenario by increasing the number of children with disabilities who sit for the national tests. These laws aim to improve these loopholes that have resulted in low accountability rates in special education curriculum.

 Monitoring/ Implementation of the IEPs

 Farrell (2012) explains that parents, special education professionals working with the students, school representative and teachers are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the IEPs. This team, sometimes called the Committee on Special Education, also develop the program. The IEPs include the present child’s performance, annual goals of the special education programs as well as the required strategies of meeting these objectives. In addition, the IEPs also include the specific services to be provided to the student as well as the extent of the child’s participation in the special education program (Farrell, 2012). The committee on special education monitors the progress of the child as well as the implementation of the IEP program. The special education professional, the school representative as well as other teachers ensure that the child receive the services outlined in the IEP meeting. Besides, they write regular reports and inform the parent on the child’s progress in regards to the new services offered. The IEP then develops necessary recommendations depending on the progress made by the student.

 Special Education Laws for Refinement

 Clauses of the IDEA law that stipulates the conditions that a student need to meet to be considered disable needs refinement (Smith, 2004). This law needs amendment to include new conditions such as dyslexia. This condition, also known as reading disorder, occurs when a person’s score in reading, mathematics and writing is substantially lower than the expected results for the a particular age and schooling level. There are many causes of learning disorder such as hereditary factors, perinatal injuries, medical ailments as well as chromosomal abnormalities. Dyslexia should be included as one of the ailments under the special education laws since it affects the academic and occupational abilities of the affected persons. This condition jeopardizes the academic achievements, self-esteem, social relationship and motivation of students. As a result, students suffering from this condition are high likely to drop-out of school. Dyslexia, therefore, affects the access of education among the affected persons hence, should be included in the special education laws.

Another area of the law that requires refinement is the use of discrepancy model. The current federal special education laws state do not require the discrepancy model while determining disability among students (Farrell, 2012). According to the discrepancy model, a student is disabled when their ability is more than their performance. For instance, a student who is disabled but with a high IQ qualifies for the special education services. In contrast, a learning disabled student with low IQ do not qualify for these services. This is due to the lack of discrepancy between the student’s academic performance and IQ. This model presents a challenge since it may lock out numerous students who require the services. For instance, a disabled student who receives home tutoring that results in high grades will not qualify for the services. In addition, the students under the programs who work hard such that their grades are commensurate with their abilities may be required to quit the program. As such, the current laws create confusion by failing to stipulate under what conditions the discrepancy model should be used and when it should not be used.

 Special education laws in the country have undergone numerous evolutions since the days when segregation was the norm during the 18th and better part of the 19th century. Currently, IDEA and the NCLB are the hallmarks of legal framework for special education in the country. The first major milestone in the provision of special education programs was the Brown v Board Supreme Court ruling that emphasized on the importance of equal education opportunity for all. The EAHCA, later on renamed IDEA, heralded a new milestone in special education programs by mandating all district schools to provide equal education opportunity irrespective of disability.