Massachusetts Special Education Regulations

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA 2004 (Federal law)

Every Student Succeeds Act- (ESSA) This bipartisan measure reauthorizes the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the nation’s national education law and longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students.

Wrights Law article: 10 Tips: How to Use IDEA 2004 to Improve Your Child’s Special Education

What law overrides or takes precedence over another?

  1. If Federal law – (IDEA) is more stringent, (benefits the student) it must be used.
  2. State law (Special Education Law) – State Department of Education regulations, IEP forms, or policies which differ from Federal law, which ever law is more stringent (benefits the student), is used.
  3. School district policies, practices, forms and procedures, are overridden by both state and federal laws.

Overview of Federal disability laws

It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability. There are three federal laws that protect people with disabilities in the school and day care settings.  These laws have a history of being successful in protecting the rights of children with disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

This law prohibits public and private schools that receive federal financial assistance from discriminating against anyone with a disability. You don’t need to wait until discrimination occurs to seek the protections of this law. The first step is to have your child evaluated. Parents and school officials then meet and develop a Section 504 Plan, if indicated by the evaluation and team.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

This law covers children whose disability impairs their academic performance. It requires that students (age 3-22) be given a “free, appropriate public education.” Your child may or may not qualify, depending on how their disability affects their ability to learn. If the student qualifies, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be developed by the school team and parents. (An IEP is similar to a Section 504 Plan but would include specific measures to address your child’s academic performance and needed special education and other related services.)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

This law expressly prohibits all schools and day care centers (except those run by religious institutions) from discriminating against people with disabilities.  Its definition of disability is the same as in Section 504.

Basically, these laws say that your child has the right to go to school, play a sport, join a club, and do everything else that kids without a disability can do. They also say that public schools and other covered organizations must make “reasonable accommodations” for the disability. Such accommodations are to be spelled out in the Section 504 plan, IEP, or other education plan.
For more information visit the Americans with Disabilities Act website.

History – Federal Special Education

The original law (Public Law 94-142)was called the Education Handicap Act (EHA), passed in 1975 and revised several times.  It was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1990, (Public Law 101-476).

In the 1997 reauthorization of IDEA an emphasis on access to the general curriculum was added to the statute.  By law, Congress must re-authorize this legislation every five years.  IDEA 97 U.S. Department of Education Federal Register, 34 CFR Parts 300 and 303, went in effect March, 1999.

In the 2003 round of IDEA reauthorization, emphasis was on revising the eligibility criteria. After three years of work, the U.S. Congress completed its renewal of the federal special education law by passing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA-04) on November 19, 2004. The President signed the bill into law on December 3, 2004, marking the first update to IDEA since 1997.
As you see changing federal law is a process that takes a long time and does not follow precise timelines.

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