Laws That Protect School Children With Disabilities
In the past, people with mental or physical disabilities were often sent to institutions, sometimes from birth, to live out the rest of their lives. Parents were told that it was the best that they could do for their children and that there were no other reasonable alternatives. The reality is that the facilities were often harsh and inhumane. It sounds like something out of a 19th-century novel, but unfortunately, the practice lasted well into the 20th century.
Starting in the mid-to-late 20th century, the federal government started passing laws to protect the rights of disabled children, not only getting them out of inhumane institutions but affirming their right to a free and appropriate education equivalent to what their nondisabled peers received. Here is a look at a few of the most significant laws and how they help.
The Americans With Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 and protects people with disabilities at work, in public places, and in schools. It prohibits discrimination against disabled students in public schools and states that children with qualifying disabilities cannot be denied activities, programs, or educational services that their nondisabled counterparts have access to.
However, the ADA does have limitations. For example, its provisions do not extend to private schools operated by religious organizations.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act was first passed in 1975, then had amendments added in 2004. IDEA governs special education in the United States. Among other things, this means specifying which students qualify for special education. Qualifying disabilities include the following:
- Physical disabilities
- Developmental delays
- Vision and hearing impairments
- Traumatic brain injury
- Intellectual disability
- Serious emotional disturbance
- Learning difference
- Diagnosed condition on the autism spectrum
It is generally desirable for students to receive instruction in general classrooms whenever possible. However, students in these categories may have to receive extra help in a resource room.
IDEA services do not last forever. While it allows disabled students to take a little more time to finish school, the cutoff age is 21.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
This law dates from 1973 and states that any school that receives financial assistance from the federal government has to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled students to make programs and activities functionally equivalent for disabled students. This law covers students that are not eligible for special education under IDEA, and accommodations may include sitting at the front of the class, modifications to homework assignments, or test-taking with no time limit. Section 504 applies to private schools that receive federal financing just as it does to public schools.