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UFT.org Home > Teaching > Students with Disabilities > Federal Laws, Regulations and Policy Guidance
1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, commonly referred to as “IDEA,” is a federal law that governs the how states and public agencies serve children with disabilities from birth to age 21. Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act addresses the education of school age students with disabilities. The primary purposes of Part B are to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free 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, and to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected. States and local educational agencies receive funding through IDEA to help them accomplish these objectives.
In 2017, the United States Department of Education launched a “new and improved” Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) website. The new webiste promises improved site navigation and design; expanded search options; resources for specific audiences, including parents and families and educators/service providers; and expanded content with streamlined resources. The latter includes data reports and State Performance Plans/Annual Performance Reports as well as a list of frequently-used acronyms and terms.
Two versions of the IDEA regulations are provided here. The first is the final version posted on the current government website. A second version published in the Federal Register, which also contains the final regulations, includes a detailed discussion of the changes in the regulations that followed the 2004 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It also has an analysis of the comments and questions that were received by the Department of Education when the regulations were initially proposed. The Department’s responses to the comments provide important insights about the agency’s interpretation of the law.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), enacted in December 2015, amended IDEA in certain respects. The IDEA regulations were amended effective June 30, 2017 to reflect the changes. The amendments remove and revise certain IDEA definitions, update State eligibility requirements, and update relevant cross-references in the IDEA regulations to reflect the changes made by ESSA. This chart summarizes the changes in the final regulations.
Topical information and resources from the United States Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs and other federal agencies is available on the new federal IDEA website. Topics areas include: Accessibility – Instructional Materials; Assessment; Bullying; Charter Schools; Child Find Procedures; Discipline/Behavior Supports; English Learners with Disabilities; Evaluation and Reevaluation; Free Appropriate Public Education; Individualized Education Program; Least Restrictive Environment; Physical Education and Adapted Physical Education; Response to Intervention; Secondary Transition and Transportation.
2. Section 504
Section 504 is the “other” federal law that affects the education of students with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits all entities that receive federal funding, both public and private, from discriminating on the basis of disability. Section 504 can thus be thought of as the “civil rights” law for students with disabilities. Questions frequently arise about the relationship between Section 504 and IDEA and between Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As more fully explained in the following materials, Section 504 covers a broader population, but the protections provided are less specific than IDEA. Thus, Section 504 also covers children who are eligible for special education under IDEA, but the primary source of their rights is IDEA. Conversely, students with disabilities are a small subset of the population protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the obligations imposed on public schools under Section 504 and the ADA are nearly identical. If you are confused – or just curious – about the relationship between IDEA, Section 504 and the ADA, the Frequently Asked Questions About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities is the place to start.
In 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act. The amendments, which became effective on January 1, 2009, included what is called a “conforming amendment” to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This conforming amendment affects and broadly expands how the term “disability” is interpreted under Section 504. It also contains new examples of “major life activities.” While the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has been interpreting Section 504 consistent with the ADA amendments, the Section 504 regulations themselves were not changed. These two documents explain how the law is currently being implemented and how the ADA Amendments Act affects students with disabilities attending public elementary and secondary schools.
3. Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that prohibits improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from student records. FERPA also addresses access to student records, parental right to inspect and review records, amendment of records and destruction of records. FERPA applies to all educational agencies and institutions that receive federal funds.
While FERPA generally requires consent of the parent or eligible student before disclosing personally identifiable information from an eligible students education records, there are a number of important exceptions to this requirement. One exception allows “school officials,” including teachers, within a school to obtain access to personally identifiable information in education records of students if the school has determined they have a “legitimate educational interest” in the information. A “school official” has a “legitimate educational interest” if the official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill a professional responsibility. Schools may also disclose “directory information" such as a student’s name, address telephone number and dates of attendance without consent. However, they must tell parents and eligible students what they consider “directory information” and provide them a reasonable amount of time to request that the school not disclose directory information about them.
The U. S. Department of Education’s Protecting Student Privacy website addresses a wide range of issues related to student privacy. The website provides access to information on student privacy issues for various audiences, e.g., K-12 School Officials, Parents & Students, and Early Childhood Educators and allows users to select the topics they are interested in as well as the type of resource they are looking for.
Chancellor’s Regulation A-820, Confidentiality and Release of Student Records, Records Retention incorporates and implements the FERPA requirements as well as New York State records retention mandates.
The FERPA regulations, which are written in a question and answer format, are the easiest way to access information about the law and how it is applied to schools.
Joint Guidance on the Application of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) to Student Health Records — This document addresses the confusion on the part of school administrators, health care professionals, and others as to how these two statutes apply to records maintained on students. Importantly, this guidance clarifies that the HIPPA Privacy Rule generally does not apply to elementary and secondary schools. It also addresses certain disclosures that are allowed without consent or authorization under both laws, especially those related to health and safety emergencies.
4. Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment
- political affiliations or beliefs of the student or the student’s parent;
- mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;
- sex behavior or attitudes;
- illegal, anti-social, self-incriminating, or demeaning behavior;
- critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships;
- legally recognized privileged or analogous relationships, such as those of lawyers, physicians, and ministers;
- religious practices, affiliations, or beliefs of the student or student’s parent; or,
- income (other than that required by law to determine eligibility for participation in a program or for receiving financial assistance under such program).