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Education Law

Education Of Children With Disabilities

Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (20 U.S.C.A. §§ 1400 et seq.)—formerly the EAHCA—in 1975 to address the failure of state education systems to meet the educational needs of children who have disabilities. Congress's enactment of IDEA was, in part, a response to two well-publicized federal court cases: Mills v. Board of Education, 348 F. Supp. 866 (D.D.C. 1972), and Pennsylvania Ass'n of Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 343 F. Supp. 279 (E.D. Pa. 1972). The courts in both cases found that children with disabilities were denied access to public schools because of their disabilities. For example, school laws in Pennsylvania and in the nation's capital permitted schools to deny entry to children whose IQ was below 70 (100 is classified as average intelligence), until such children reached the age of eight. Once admitted to school, many of these children were expelled because they could not learn how to read.

IDEA defines the types of disabilities covered and limits coverage to children who are educationally disabled. The act provides for matching funds to be available to states that have federally approved plans. To qualify for those funds, a state plan must ensure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for all qualifying children and must guarantee access to a complex DUE PROCESS procedure for a parent

or guardian who wishes to challenge a child's FAPE.

IDEA differs from most legal provisions for public education in one important aspect: The parent of a disabled child has been elevated to the level of equal partner with school officials in shaping an educational experience for the child, whereas the parent of a child without disabilities is expected by law to be a passive participant in the public education that is provided by the teachers and school officials. This empowerment of parents of children with disabilities has generated countless and endless legal challenges of school officials' decisions and practices. Each case is decided on narrow factual grounds, with little generalizability.

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