The Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act is a federal law that provides funding to schools to provide education to students with disabilities. If the school takes the money then it is under an obligation to find and evaluate students with disabilities and develop a plan to meet their unique educational needs. Special education and related services are provided through an Individual Education Plan that is developed by a team consisting of the parents and representatives of the school district, as well as other persons who are familiar with the child and the disability.
While the IEP process is collaborative, if there are differences of opinion or disputes as to whether the IEP is providing the Free Appropriate Public Education mandated by federal law, then dispute resolution may be sought either through a complaint to the state education agency, a complaint to the Office of Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education (and also within the U.S. Department of Agriculture), or by requesting a Due Process Hearing before an Independent Hearing Officer. In Texas, appeals of the decision of the Independent Hearing Officer are to a state or federal court. In other jurisdictions there may be another appellate panel within the education agency before access may be had to the court system.
Overlaying the IDEA are laws against discrimination - Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act. While these are anti-discrimination acts, their provisions call for schools to provide certain facilities and accomodations so that students with disabilities are receiving the same education as their non-disabled peers.
Special Education Law is a profoundly complex area of the law both in terms of its substance and the procedures involved. Parents are eligible to recover their attorney fees if they are a prevailing party, and then only to the extent that they prevail. In order to recover the attorney fees, a lawsuit must be commenced in state or federal court for that purpose.
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