Educational Rights Of Students With Disabilities: Understanding Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) And Legal Protections In A Divorce
Divorce is almost always a painful and emotionally trying experience in any person’s life. However, ending a marriage can be especially complicated for parents of children with disabilities, who often have to navigate special education services. Many divorcing spouses do not fully understand the potential impact of divorce on Individualized Education Programs and how decisions regarding a child’s individualized education program should be made when parents split up. Fortunately, there are federal laws in place that protect the rights of students with disabilities. These laws help to ensure that kids with special needs have the same access to education after a divorce as when their parents were married. The Millard Law Firm understands that divorce can be an emotionally grueling process. Our lawyers in Alpharetta, Georgia handle every case personally and professionally, especially when the divorce involves children with disabilities. Call our office at (678) 319-9500 to get the compassionate support and undivided attention you and your family need during this difficult time.
Federal Laws That Protect the Interests of Students With Disabilities
Three main laws provide protections to students with disabilities at a federal level. These laws are:
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973)
In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act became the nation’s first federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The federal law covers schools (all public schools and some private schools), universities, government offices, hospitals, and other entities that receive federal funding. Section 504 of the Act requires covered K-12 schools to provide a Free and Appropriate Public Education––also known as FAPE––to qualified students with disabilities. The rule applies regardless of the nature or severity of the student’s disability.
According to the official website of the United States Department of Education, FAPE is designed to improve students’ access to equitable education by providing the necessary aids and services to meet every qualified student’s individual educational needs. That includes providing students with disabilities with reasonable accommodations to ensure they can participate in learning and school activities successfully.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and signed into law in 1990, all entities that offer goods or services to the public have been prohibited from discriminating against individuals based on a disability. The ADA broadens the protections provided by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to protect the rights of students with disabilities in colleges and schools, including private ones, that are not receiving federal funding.
Essentially, federal law established under the ADA requires that public and commercial facilities must be accessible to people with disabilities, such accessibility to be achieved by providing reasonable accommodations when necessary. The ADA is not limited to a specific list of categories of disabilities; instead, this legislation offers a pathway to protections for anyone who has a physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits their life activities.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This federal law provides funding to states in the interests of ensuring that children with disabilities have access to education. In order for school districts to receive funding through IDEA, the educational facilities must provide children with disabilities access to FAPE in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). What this school qualification requirement means is that students with disabilities must receive educational services with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate. Unlike the ADA, however, IDEA lists 13 specific disability categories under which children aged 3 to 21 may be eligible for services under the Act.
The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
The IDEA implements the requirements for Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), which are also known as Individualized Education Plans. These programs/plans lay out the special education instructions and services a child with a qualifying disability needs while attending an elementary or secondary school. According to the official website of the United States Department of Education, the child with a disability, his/her parents and other family members, and a group of individuals from various disciplines work together to develop the most appropriate program or plan. IEPs typically contain the following information:
- The child’s current levels of educational performance
- The measurable annual objectives and goals for the child’s education
- The level of the child’s involvement in the general curriculum
- The child’s qualification for education services
- Whether any reasonable accommodations are necessary
If the IEP is not established while the parents of the child with a disability are married, complications may arise if the parents get divorced. During and after a divorce, it may not always be clear which parent is responsible for making decisions about the child’s education plan. At The Millard Law Firm, we understand the importance of making sure that every child continues learning even if their parents get a divorce. If you have disagreements with the other parent of your child regarding educational decisions, your attorney can help you seek consensus through negotiation, or pursue clarification through modification of your parenting plan if necessary.
Divorce and Education Rights of Children With Disabilities
Divorce may not directly affect a child’s ability to participate in educational activities. However, the divorce decree––a document that outlines both parties’ responsibilities after the marriage ends––should clearly specify the rights of each parent to make educational decisions for the child with disabilities. Generally, unless otherwise provided by a court order, the IDEA gives both parents equal rights to make decisions regarding the child’s education and related services. Thus, in the absence of a court order or a divorce decree that clearly outlines both parents’ rights and obligations, there is a high potential for disputes between the parties, which can negatively affect the child’s ability to receive education.
Conflicts may arise when parental consent is needed for a child to start or continue receiving special education, especially if the parents share joint legal custody and must mutually agree upon education-related decisions. If the school district requires only one parent’s signature to proceed with special education, further disagreements and sometimes even power struggles between the parents may arise. Everyone’s situation is unique, which is why you might want to consider getting legal counsel from an experienced lawyer to discuss how education-related decisions should be made when a child has a disability.
Get the Compassionate Support and Guidance You Need
If you have a child with disabilities and recently got a divorce or are in the midst of one, you might have concerns about your child’s special education and his/her participation in Individualized Education Programs. Our lawyer at The Millard Law Firm can explain everything you need to know about the rights of students with disabilities and how you can ensure that your child continues to receive the educational services they need even after you and the other parent go separate ways. Call at (678) 319-9500 to request a consultation with an experienced Georgia family law attorney and discuss your unique situation.