YOUR LEGAL FRIENDS: IDEA AND SECTION 504
by Margot Andersen, M.S.W.
Understanding the law in special education and how it can work
for you will make you a better advocate in securing services for
your child. People are often intimidated by the jargon they consider
to be reserved for legal experts. Since "knowledge is power",
and you want to be the most powerful advocate you can be, let's
begin to de-mystify the legal terms. Children who have disabilities
can be served under two separate laws: IDEA, a categorical funding
law and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights
IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
This Federal law was originally enacted in 1975 as P.L. (Public
Law) 94-142 called The Education for All Handicapped Children Act.
This law was re-named IDEA in 1990. This law was designed to protect
the rights of handicapped children after Congress found that over
half of the 8 million handicapped children in 1975 were not receiving
appropriate educational services which would enable them to have
full equality of opportunity. Although there have been 5 sets of
amendments to the 1975 law, the basic principles remain the same.
In other words, all children who qualify under the 13 categories
spelled out by IDEA are entitled to:
---free appropriate public education (FAPE)
---individualized education program (IEP)
---least restrictive environment (LRE)
---parent and student participation in decision making
---procedural due process
IDEA is a funding law. It is an agreement between States and the
Federal government that the States will comply with the statutes
and regulations in order to receive federal funding for the education
of eligible students ages birth to 21. In order to be eligible for
service under IDEA, a student must qualify under one of these diagnostic
categories: speech or language impairments, visual impairments including
blindness, orthopedic impairments, hearing impairments including
deafness, multiple disabilities, mental retardation, autism, traumatic
brain injury, specific learning disabilities, severe emotional disturbance
(Bi-Polar Disorder), or Other Health Impaired (for example, ADD/ADHD.
Etc). In addition to having the condition, one must also be able
to show that the condition adversely effects learning. The student
must be in need of both special education AND related services.
At the core of IDEA is the individualized education plan (IEP) which
is the blueprint for delivering all the services. The IEP must be
reasonably designed to provide educational benefit. As such, the
IEP must have goals written that have measurable outcomes to show
that the child is making progress each year. IDEA also has many
legal procedural safeguards and guidelines, which schools must adhere
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights law that
applies to programs that receive federal financial assistance. To
be eligible, one has to have a physical or mental impairment that
substantially limits a major life activity, such as learning. Simply
put, schools cannot discriminate against students with disabilities
on the basis of those disabilities. Section 504 is a much broader
law than IDEA. It does not have all of the procedural safeguards
and guidelines, and it is not a funding law. Although the rules
under Section 504 have been in place since the start of the 1977-78
school year, many schools still do not fully understand how to apply
it to students with disabilities such as ADHD or Bi-Polar disorder.
Section 504 applies to students needing special education OR related
services and as such, may apply to more children than IDEA. Under
Section 504, a child may only need to receive accommodations in
order to function in his/her classroom.
If a parent disagrees with the programming decision made by the
school, the parent has the right to ask to go to mediation or to
request a due process hearing under either IDEA or Section 504.
Understanding the Special Education maze is a challenge and understanding
how to apply these laws to your child's unique needs is essential.
Margot Andersen, M.S.W. is a Clinical Social Worker, the parent
of a 21 year old son with ADHD, LD and Bi-Polar Disorder, and is
a professional Educational Advocate. She has a private practice
specializing in individual counseling and educational advocacy for
parents of children with unique educational needs. 847-272-4090