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Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023

Supporting Disabled Students

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Making sure they succeed isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the law. Students with learning or medical disabilities have special protections put in place to eliminate discrimination. These laws also help level the playing field so that differently abled children have a chance to reach their maximum potential.

Know The Law

There are, in fact, three federal laws put in place to protect those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires public schools to make accommodations and modifications in Title II so that they can be accessed, according to the U.S. Department of Education. This includes physical access, but also policies, procedures and practices that may also be exclusionary. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973’s Section 504 deals specifically with any programs that receive financial assistance from the federal government, ensuring a “free and appropriate public education” — or FAPE — for all. Finally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act includes language codifying FAPE so that children with disabilities may take advantage of special-education services and related programs.

In The Classroom

Parents have two main tools to ensure this “free and appropriate public education”: a 504 plan and an IEP. Any child with learning and medical disabilities who requires special accommodations should have a 504 plan in place. This legal document describes in detail what the school is required to do, including but not limited to modified textbooks or other educational materials, special seating, nurses’ assistance, and physical or speech therapy. The IEP, or individualized education plan, sets a curriculum and measurable goals, while also noting any needed accommodations. The IEP may also outline time needed for therapy, other needed support and information on how to integrate the student with other students and for how long.

Taking Actions

If your child has already been diagnosed, reach out directly to teachers and school administrators. If they can’t help, they will connect you with someone who’s specifically assigned to special education. If you suspect a child is differently abled, there is a federal framework in place for testing at public schools. Students will be assessed on a variety of levels, including educational, psychological, socioculturally and developmentally. They should also meet with physical and speech therapists.

Reporting Issues

Parent Training and Information Centers have been specifically created to outline what children are entitled to and how to access benefits under the law. Check parentcenterhub.org/find-your-center. If there are still concerns, consider hiring a private advocate.

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