The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112), amended in 1992, includes Section 504, which affirms the right of any student or adult who has a mental or physical impairment which inhibits a major life activity including learning; has a history of such an impairment; or is considered by a team of knowledgeable individuals to have such an impairment, from being discriminated against program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. This Act also requires that students be given a free appropriate public education in regular education classes, with necessary supplementary aids and services, if they are determined by a school team to be disabled under Section 504 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Such eligibility may exist without concurrent eligibility for special education under I.D.E.A.
The Rehabilitation Act was followed in 1975 by the passage of PL 94-142, the Education of Handicapped Act, which was changed in 1990 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.). This is the legislation that provides that all students who are eligible for special education must be provided with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
The California Legislature implements the provisions of IDEA through the California Master Plan for Special Education. This plan was first implemented statewide in 1980 with the passage of SB 1870.
Some of the major areas covered by state and federal laws are the following:
- Child Find - Each public school system is responsible to find and children with disabilities in its area.
- Free Appropriate Public Education - Each public school system is responsible for ensuring that each child with disabilities is served appropriately, at no expense to the parent.
- Least Restrictive Environment - Each child is assured of his/her right of education with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of both.
- Due Process - The right of parent participation, and challenge, in all aspects of assessment, identification and placement is assured; involves mediation or administrative hearing procedures and complaint procedure in case of disputes.
- Individualized Educational Planning - The right of a child to an educational program designed to meet his/her individual needs and based on adequate assessment is assured. At age 14 to 16 this includes the development of an Individual Transition Plan (ITP) to provide for transition into the world of work.
These concepts have been reinforced and interpreted by a number of court cases since the passage of the law. Two notable cases in the State of California are the Larry P. Case, which established strict rules concerning the use of standardized intelligence tests with minority populations, and the Diana Case, which has caused school systems to revise their bilingual special education assessments.
The complexity of these rules and responsibilities has created the need for skilled and knowledgeable administrators who must understand the laws and apply them fairly. The SELPA Administrator is responsible for assuring that:
- All individuals with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
- All regular education resources are considered and, where appropriate, utilized on a local or regional basis to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
- A system exists at the regional level for identification, assessment and placement of disabled students.
- A viable system for public education is functioning in the community, with broad participation and interaction involving parents and other agencies serving children and young adults.
- A annual compliance monitoring system implemented, that continues to assure non- compliant items that have been identified through Self Reviews, Verification Reviews, Focused Monitoring or Complaints have and continue to be rectified.
Significant changes have occurred in services and programs provided for children with exceptional needs in the public schools of California. These changes have stemmed from new laws and regulations at both the state and national levels, as well as from the spirit of fairness, balance and equality that characterize the public school system in America. New interpretations of existing laws by the courts have further modified and expanded the services required for exceptional students.
Previously, children with disabilities were identified only if their educational needs were obvious. Then, they tended to be placed into programs designed to serve children with similar disabilities in special schools or located separately on comprehensive school sites. Such categorical programs were usually effective in providing specialized services for the populations they served; but in many cases, expectations for these groups were inappropriate in relation to the students' actual potential.
Gradually, the community and public agencies have become aware that children with disabilities can be educated with their non-disabled peers, guaranteeing equal opportunities for all children.... including children with disabilities.
This required the sharing of program resources, including transportation, through regional cooperation among public and non-public schools and non-educational agencies.
In the early 1970s, a simultaneous movement across the country resulted in the passage of important federal and state laws. The federal laws were PL 93-112 and PL 94-142. In 1987, PL 99-457 was passed which expanded services to preschool children. In response to these laws, legislation was passed in California which provides the legal foundation for a comprehensive plan in special education and requires local districts and agencies to establish Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) to address the needs of all children with disabilities.
These laws and regulations promote changes and procedures leading to such things as the following:
Today, as never before, parents, students and staff work together to make certain that the appropriate services are provided on an individualized basis for every child with a disability. The services are provided through the Special Education Local Plan Areas – SELPA’s. The Local Plan developed and maintained in each community by the people who live there, is the basis of these improvements and the foundation of services.