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Special Education, Rehabilitation, and Deaf Studies



Due Process Hearing –This is a court-like review process governed by administrative laws. A due process hearing is one of the administrative remedies available to parents and school districts to resolve special education disputes. Hearings can be held on behalf of one student or may involve others, as in a class action. The due process hearing is presided over by a hearing officer whose decisions have the effect of law and are binding upon the parties participating in the hearing.

EAHCA – The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, enacted in 1975, required all public schools to accept federal funds to provide equal access to education for children with physical and mental disabilities.

FAPE – A Free Appropriate Public Education is the mandated right that special education students are educated in the way best suited to help them learn and excel.

IEP – An Individualized Education Plan describes the goals set for a special education student by his or her Child Study Team, during the school year, as well as any special support needed to help the student achieve these goals.

IDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was the successor legislation to the EAHCA and mandates Public Schools to provide special education students with a free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment to help these students meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.

IDEIA – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, reauthorized and amended the IDEA in 2004.

Inclusion – Means that students with disabilities are supported in chronologically age-appropriate general education classes in their home schools and receive the specialized instruction customized in their IEP’s within the context of the core curriculum and general class activities.

LRE – The Least Restrictive Environment means that a student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with his or her non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent possible.

Pro Se Legal Representation – Refers to the instance of a person representing himself or herself without a lawyer in a court proceeding.

Related Service – Defined by the regulations to the 1997 IDEA as "transportation and such developmental, corrective, and other supportive services as are required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education"



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The rights of special needs individuals were originally defined and protected in the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), which required school districts to adopt specific educational services to provide equal educational opportunities for children with disabilities. In 1990 the EAHCA was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and in 2004 the IDEA was amended and reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA). The IDEA and its predecessor are federal mandates. Therefore, in order for United States public school systems to recieve federal funding, they must comply with the IDEA and protect the rights of students with disabilities and ensure these students receive comprehensive educational programs and services.

The IDEA follows the spirit of the EAHCA and requires that public school districts provide students with qualifying disabilities a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). It also provides for substantive and procedural protections for special education students and their parents. For instance, the IDEA provides specific guidance on how schools determine whether a student is eligible for special education, for how a students’ individualized education plan (IEP) is developed, for determining whether the services and support proposed are appropriate, as well as other safeguards for involving parents in this process.

The thirty-five year old legislation governing the rights of special education students is still being interpreted by the Supreme Court today. Given that this is a federal mandate, money is often the crux of special education debate around the country. Congress determined that the federal government should provide 40% of special education funding and that the states should pick up the remainder of the cost, however, the federal government has never come close to funding 40% of special education. This creates inequities in the system; students in well-funded districts tend to benefit more from the IDEA than students in under-funded, lower-income districts. Another issue that presents itself under the IDEA is what exactly a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment is.” The United States Circuit Courts of Appeal struggle with these very important issues. One other recent “hot button” IDEA issue ruled on by the Supreme Court in 2007 was about pro se representation by parents in these suits. Many parents do not have the financial means to litigate IDEA cases on behalf of their child and without being able to litigate pro se, they would have no chance at all. These three issues, funding, definition of FAPE and LRE, as well as pro se litigation by parents, are discussed in the Primary Sources section of Special Education Law guide acknowledged above.




Much of the content on this page is from a Special Education Law guide created by Laurice Rutledge, Georgia State University College of Law, and included with her permission.