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Disabilities and Education: Section 504 and the IDEA

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We often think of civil rights as something that affects only adults, and while it is true that discrimination in the workplace, voting rights, and so forth are primarily issues concerning adults, civil rights also affect children, especially in education. Under United States laws, all children must be given educational opportunities. This includes your child, even if he or she has a mental or physical disability.

Under Section 504 of civil rights law, all children must be given equal access to education. Under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), your child is given even more rights. Simply put, even if your child has a disability, he or she still deserves a full education. This does not necessarily mean that a child will be part of a special education program outside of the typical classroom, but it does mean that a child will have a chance to learn, just like all other children are given.

Children must first go through an evaluation process to determine whether or not they are eligible under Section 504. If your child has a mental or physical disability that requires accommodations to make learning possible, he or she probably qualifies. A child may then be placed in a special education classroom, which is most common if the child is causing disruptions that make it impossible for other students to learn. However, in many cases, especially in elementary school, the disabled student will simply be given tools to help him or her with daily learning activities. These tools may include extra time for assignments, specially printed textbooks, books on tape, behavior intervention plans, special recreation time, visual aids, oral testing, and aid from a special teacher. Every case should be considered individually to ensure that the child is getting the best education possible.

As a parent, you are given certain rights under Section 504 that allow you to protect your child. These rights are as follows:

• The right to receive notice when you child is evaluated or placed in a special class.
• The right to access all records pertaining to your child’s health and education at school.
• The right to request a hearing to review the placement of your child.
• The right to file a complaint with your district’s Section 504 coordinator if you are unhappy with any aspect of your child’s education.
• The right to file a complaint with the regional or state discrimination offices.

It is important to understand that your school district has certain obligations but, at the same time, that there are hundreds of other children who have needs that must be considered as well. In some cases, the best choice for your child and their education is to seek private school options. Remember that you are your child’s advocate. It is important to speak up if you feel that he or she is being left behind due to not being given the tools needed to overcome disabilities and succeed in school. Always file a complaint if you are concerned about your child’s education.

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