The principal piece of Federal legislation relating to special education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 20 U.S.C. sections 1400-1482. The IDEA’s purpose is “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

States receiving federal assistance under the IDEA must (1) provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to each disabled child within its boundaries and (2) ensure that such education is ‘in the least restrictive environment’ possible.

The FAPE provided must be developed to each disabled child’s needs through an individualized education program commonly referred to as an IEP which is a written plan prepared at a meeting jointly of the school’s representative, a teacher, the student’s parents and the student if appropriate. This committee is known in Texas as an Admissions, Review and Dismissal Committee or ARD.

The term “free and appropriate public education” means special education and related services provided at public expense in conformity with the individualized education program required under 20 U.S.C. section 1414(a) (5).

The term “special education” means specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a handicapped child, including classroom instruction, instruction in physical education, home instruction, and instruction in hospitals and institutions.

The term “related services” means all services such as transportation and such developmental, corrective and other supportive services as may be required to assist a handicapped child to benefit from special education, provided, that medical services shall be for diagnostic and evaluation purposes only.

You, as the parent of a disabled child, are a part of this committee and have an equal voice in the formulation and implementation of the Individual Education Plan for your child. You, as the parent of a disabled child, have the right to be represented by a special education attorney or in the case of Texas a special education advocate at all stages of the process.

All special education issues are resolved through the Texas Education Agency which provides an administrative review process through a Due Process hearing which is essentially a trial held before an Administrative Hearing Officer at which time you have the right to present all of your evidence and testimony in support of your claims. You may represent yourself but you have the right to be represented by either an attorney or special education advocate.
If you are dissatisfied with the decision of the Administrative Hearing Officer you may appeal that decision to the appropriate United States District Court. Your case will then proceed through the Federal court system as any other case. Although referred to as an appeal your case will be tried as a case originally filed in Federal District Court meaning all of the evidence and testimony will be presented again at trial. After trial the United States District Court will determine whether the previous decision of the Administrative Hearing Officer was correct. You have the right to represent yourself or to have an attorney assist you.

You may also have a claim to be presented in Federal Court only as to any violations of Federal law arising from the same facts that gave rise to your claim through the TEA. The TEA has jurisdiction over any violations of IDEA but violations of other Federal statutes are not to heard by the TEA.

For example, Section 504 may also require preschool, elementary and secondary education providers who are recipients of Federal funding to provide disabled or handicapped students with a free and appropriate public education.

While you may represent yourself you also have the right to take advantage of experience and expertise of an attorney and advocate to protect your most valuable asset, your unalienable rights as an individual.