Prior to the 1960’s, schools didn’t have to teach kids with disabilities. The Civil Rights Act passed in the 1960’s protects people who are classified as minorities. This includes people who have disabilities. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other laws, ALL children with disabilities were guaranteed the right to receive an education. The most important laws that protect children with disabilities are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
There are six principles of the IDEA that guide the way schools plan, deliver and evaluate the special education services. These principles are:
- A Free And Appropriate Education – children with disabilities are entitled to a free (free of cost) and appropriate (appropriate for the child’s needs) education.
- An Appropriate Evaluation – in order for your child to receive the most appropriate education, the school must know what "appropriate" is. They do this by evaluating the child. The evaluation helps the school understand the child’s specific needs.
- Individualized Education Plan (IEP)– this is the document that assures that your child will receive an appropriate education. The IEP is a written document that describes the changes and additions that need to be made in your child's school environment to help him receive the best possible education. It is put together by school personnel, parents, the child when appropriate and others who have the child’s best interests in mind. It is similar to a care plan or treatment plan in a mental health setting, but it specifically applies to your child’s education.
- Least Restrictive Environment – the IDEA guarantees each child with a disability receives a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. The evaluation process and the IEP process will help determine whether the child is best served in the regular classroom or in another educational setting. It is the school’s responsibility to provide an alternate setting.
- Parent And Student Participation In The IEP – this guarantees the right of the student and the parents to be part of the IEP process.
- Procedural Safeguards – there are safeguards built into the law that protect the rights of parents and students. For example, the school must notify the parent about any action it intends to take in planning the child’s IEP; parents have the right to review all of their child’s records; there must be a complaint process in place for parents to use if there is a problem with the IEP.
IDEA is not intended to provide treatment for children. Instead, it is a guarantee that the school will provide services to children who have so that they can get the most from their educational experience.
Not all mental health issues qualify as a disability. In order to be classified as a disability and to be eligible for special education services, a child’s mental health or behavioral issues must be disabilities that interfere with one or more basic life activities.