Special Education Law

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The most important special education law in the US is the IDEA, or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a federal law, governing special education, intervention and other services that are provided to children with disabilities, by public and state agencies. The special education law caters to the educational needs of students with thirteen categories of disabilities, from birth to the age of 21.

The IDEA is a federally funded special education law and applies to all educational agencies and States that accept this funding. All the US States accept this special education law and funding and are subject to its statute.

The IDEA was preceded by another special education law called Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and both laws grew out of federal laws which held that depriving disabled children of free public education amounted to deprivation of due process. Over the years, the special education law has grown in form and scope.

IDEA, the special education law, has been amended from time to time, the most recent being December 2004, when some significant amendments were made.

IDEA 2004 clarified that the purpose of the special education law was that each student with disability must be provided with free public education that would prepare them for continuing education, to find employment and live independently.

Under the IDEA of 2004, all services related to special education should be formulated in accordance with the unique needs of students with disabilities, from preschool right to age 21, and students with learning disabilities should be helped to acquire further education and independent living through employment.

Background to the IDEA

Prior to 1975 when the EHA statute was passed, only one out of five children with disabilities were educated in public schools in the US. At that time, there were laws in many states that clearly excluded children who had certain disabilities like blindness and deafness from going to public schools, along with children who were considered to be mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed.

When the EHA was passed, one million plus US children did not have access to public schools. Many such children lived in state institutions and received practically no rehabilitation or educational services. Another group of three million plus children who went to school were put into segregated facilities and were not given effective instruction.

Now (as of the year 2006), six million plus US children are recipients of special education services, through the IDEA.

IDEA - Provisions

Under IDEA, a student with disability does not become automatically qualified for the special education services.

According to the IDEA, a child with disability is a child who has mental retardation, language or speech impairments, deafness or hearing impairments, blindness or visual impairments, a child who suffers from emotional disturbance, autism, brain injury, orthopedic impairments, specific learning disabilities or other health impairments, who, because of any of these conditions, requires special education and other related services.

Children who are qualified for special education also become automatically protected by another special education law, Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act, 1973, and also by the ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act.

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