Overview of Federal Law Governing Special Education
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) sets specific standards for the education of children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia. IDEA serves to provide protection for handicapped children by making sure that each state (through its local school districts) provides a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to children who have specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.
FAPE reflects the requirement that each student with a disability is entitled to a publicly-funded education that is designed to meet the individual needs of that student.
- IDEA provides overarching laws and regulations regarding special education, but states are allowed to “interpret” these laws as long as the basic standards of IDEA are met.
- In Texas, children with dyslexia have historically been served outside of Special Education Programs in public schools under the category of 504. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability according to the IDEA—this is not new–the word “dyslexia” appears in the IDEA. Therefore, if the disability that qualifies a child for special education services under an IEP is dyslexia, the correct disability “code” is Specific Learning Disability (SLD). In most cases, the child with dyslexia is better served under a SE IEP rather than a Section 504 program for reasons that will be articulated below.
- When the U.S. Department of Education crafted the regulations to implement the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (P.L. 94-142), now known as IDEA, it needed to provide a process and criteria for identifying students in the category of “specific learning disability”, which is how most children with dyslexia will be identified for services in the public schools. This has not been true in Texas, as parents of children with dyslexia have been unwilling to have their children labeled as special education services. Thus, historically, most of the Orton-Gillingham consistent programs for reading instruction for children with dyslexia have been provided under Section 504.
- In 2004, IDEA was re-authorized to align closely with the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation. NCLB was enacted as federal law in 2001, calling for school accountability, supplemental services to under-performing schools, and the eventual restructuring of schools that continued to fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). AYP specifies that 100% of students will maintain a passing grade in reading and math by the year 2014. Texas schools have circumvented this requirement by awarding passing grades to struggling students based upon general and special education modifications and accommodations thereby allowing Texas schools to graduate scores of children each year who are unable to talk, read, write, or compute above the third grade level.
- NCLB also requires that all core curriculum teachers be highly qualified and that role of the parents in education should be valued and strengthened. The current IDEA of 2004, as well as NCLB, directed schools to focus more on helping all children learn by addressing the problems that are brought about by the eligibility requirements to receive special education services. Students with SLDs are routinely disqualified for meaningful services through a Full Individual Evaluation that determines that they do not have an intact cognitive profile or a mixed ability profile, but diagnoses these children as slow learners who are doing the best they can in the general education program based upon their low ability overall cognitive profile.
- In Texas schools, parents have been shut down and excluded from educational and programming decisions as teachers, therapists, and school administrators consider themselves to be the experts. Decisions about materials, methods and settings are made by school staff. Parents’ outside testing and reports are discounted with the phrase that schools are not required to provide clinical level services and/or schools are not required to allow parents to dictate specific educational materials or methods. Parents are told that schools are mandated to be TEKS compliant and consistent—and that ONLY state guidelines and materials are permitted regardless of the child’s ability to gain meaningful and significant benefit from the general education curriculum and program.
- There is a pattern of deliberate deception in the IEP reports provided to parents. What we now see in Texas at special education annual reviews are parents routinely being told that the child has made more than a year’s worth of progress, has mastered all his SE goals, and is therefore passing all general education coursework and will be promoted to the next grade.
- Present levels of performance are presented in such muddy words as to render the schools unaccountable for documenting significant and meaningful progress in light of the student’s unique circumstances.
- When the parent attempts to file a special education complaint with TEA regarding the child’s continued inability to read, write, or compute, they learn that even if the school didn’t implement the IEP as delineated in the district’s contract with the parent, this is of no consequence as the student “passed to the next grade.”
- Parents are NOT being told that their children’s actual reading, writing, and math skills, in comparison to same age peers, are significantly below grade placement and that the rate of progress in regards to student competency to read and comprehend grade level material becomes less and less likely with each school year that passes. TEA appears equally disinterested in this information.
- In December of 2008, new regulations specific to Part B of the IDEA were issued. IDEA is divided into two main sections: Part B and Part C. Part B: specifies all services provided to children and youth with disabilities, ages 3 – 21 while Part C: specifies services provided to infants and toddlers with disabilities, from birth to age 2.11 years.
- In Texas, the Part C programming is known as Early Childhood Intervention. ISDs are required to convene Face to Face meetings with the child and parents to discuss transferring the student from ECI to the ISD. Children who receive ECI services are considered to be already enrolled in special education and Texas public schools are required to evaluate these children to determine their continued eligibility for public school services as 3 year olds and to transfer them into school or to evaluate (Initial FIE) and determine that the previous disabilities under which the child received services have been successfully remediated through the ECI services.
- During the years of 2004-2016, so many ISDs simply refused to evaluate or enroll students in early intervention programs that ECI specialists simply quit referring their children to the school district when they aged out of ECI programs.
- These public school educational programs for 3 and 4 year old children are known as PreSchool Programs for Children with Disabilities (PPCD). In Bexar County, PPCD programs are available in all school districts and fall under the special education umbrella of services. Many of these early intervention children qualify for special education services as speech and language impaired and/or autistic (by definition all children with autism have language processing difficulties).
- In Texas, between the years of 2004 and 2016, TEA imposed an 8.5% cap for SE services on individual districts. During those years, the number of children qualified for SE services as speech impaired dropped 74% across the state, causing irreparable harm to many children.
- Language delays, remediated prior to kindergarten, typically prepare the child to successfully move through grades K-12. Children who can’t listen and talk well or at all rarely are going to be able to learn to read and write from general education educational reading, writing, and math programs.
- Two other key pieces of legislation parents need to be aware of are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was re-authorized in 2008, and Section 504, which is a section of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Both ADA and Section 504 address the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, with extensive regulations related to discrimination, equal access to programs, services or activities, especially those receiving federal assistance. The ADA’s language mirrors that of Section 504. The key points of Section 504 as it relates to public education are: Section 504 expands the definition of disability under the original Americans with Disabilities Act, preventing discrimination in employment and in public and private settings; protects children and adults with disabilities; applies to all public and most private schools and colleges, testing agencies, licensing authorities, and state and local governments.