There are four major laws that relate to children with special needs and education. These laws are about the accommodations, the instruction, and the services your child may receive in school.

1) IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the federal special education law. It provides services to students with disabilities when their disability (or disabilities) affects the student's educational progress.

Part B of IDEA makes sure that eligible students with disabilities ages 3-21 receive a free and appropriate public education. IDEA makes sure that supports and services are provided for your child in the least restrictive environment.

The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The LRE is a term that means that a child should be educated in the same classroom and school as he or she would be educated in if he or she did not have disabilities.

A child is removed from the general classroom setting only if he or she is not able to succeed there with special services. If your child cannot attend his or her neighborhood school, he or she may go to another public school where there are more special services. If needed, your child may need to attend a separate public or private school. If your child cannot attend school at all for medical reasons, then your school system must provide education services either at home or in the hospital.

Part C of IDEA makes sure that children age 0-3 who have, or are at-risk for having, a disability or developmental delay are provided with special services to help care for these needs. These are infants and toddlers who develop differently, or at a slower rate than most other children. These services are called Early Intervention (EI).

2) Massachusetts Special Education Law and Regulations (formerly known as Chapter 766) is the state special education law in Massachusetts. This law requires public school systems to provide a free and appropriate education for all eligible children with disabilities from the ages of 3 through 21. Special education should be provided in the least restrictive environment possible. The Massachusetts special education law is related to IDEA, the federal special education law.

Not all children with special health care needs are entitled to or require special education. An evaluation process must take place to determine if a child is eligible.

A child is eligible for special education if:

  • The child's disability falls into one of the Massachusetts disability categories and
  • The child is not making effective progress in school because of his or her disability.

If the school's educational team (including the parent as a member) decides that your child's disability affects the way he or she learns, then the school must work with you and other members of an evaluation team to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

3-4) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are federal laws. These laws protect the rights of people with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA and Section 504 laws make sure that plans are made to address your child's special health needs in any program that uses federal funds. This means your child will receive special services to care for his or her needs in any public childcare center and school. For example, if your child uses a wheelchair, plans are made to make sure that the school is wheelchair-accessible. If your child takes medications during school hours, plans are made for a school nurse to give medications.

Tip: If you ever feel that your rights or your child's rights are being ignored, speak up to your child's educational team.