Bonnie Spiro Schinagle, www.schinaglelaw.com
Special Education Law primarily involves two statutes; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. These are separate pieces of
legislation enacted by the United States Congress. The two statutes differ in a variety of ways
and each confers different rights. This article briefly explains the way each statute operates.
The IDEA is a Federal statute. It protects children from ages 3 through high school graduation
or age 21, whichever comes earlier. The IDEA operates like a contract. In return for Federal
money, states agree to set up systems to ensure compliance with IDEA requirements. The U.S.
Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs oversees the states and has its
own regulations. The IDEA may be found at 42 U.S.C. §1400 et seq. Federal regulations are
found in 34 CFR Part 300 and New York’s Rules and Regulations are found at 8 N.Y.C.R.R.
Part 200. IDEA protection is triggered by a lack of progress, not by failure.
IDEA disputes are resolved through a State-designed administrative process, called a Due
Process proceeding, with a right to appeal to Federal or State court. The first step in a due
process proceeding in New York is the impartial hearing, with a right to appeal to the State
Review Officer (“SRO”). The SRO’s decision can be appealed to federal district court or state
court. the IDEA allows parents to seek either private school tuition reimbursement or substitute
services - compensatory education. The parent must show that the public school did not provide
a free, appropriate public education (FAPE), that the parent’s alternative is “appropriate” and
that the parent attended all meetings and considered all options proposed by the district.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in general, prohibits discrimination against people with
disabilities by publicly funded programs. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits
discrimination against qualified people by any school, public or private, that accepts any money
from the Federal government. Qualification for protection under Section 504 is a disability that
impacts a “major life activity;” learning is considered a “major life activity.” The United States
Education Department, Office of Civil Rights issues regulations, are found in 34 CFR parts 100
and 104, and hears complaints about Section 504 violations.
What I’ve written here sounds like a foreign language and it is. It is highly technical information
generally covered in a semester-long law school course called administrative law. However,
nominal familiarity with the vocabulary of each profession strengthens each of us involved in the
community that serves students with unique learning needs.