Do children with disabilities have rights to a public education?

The public education system does not discriminate. All children, including those with disabilities, have rights to a public education in America. Children with disabilities in particular have this right protected by the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” (IDEA), which was passed in 1975. IDEA states that children with disabilities are to be educated to the same extent as those who are not disabled.

The act also requires that those working with the child should craft a statement explaining how his or her disability affects his learning, and what goals might be set (and reached) in order to ensure his or her progress within the school's curriculum. This is often referred to as an individualized education plan, or IEP. In short, IDEA ensures that children with disabilities be given every opportunity to meet their full potential within the public education system and within the same curriculum offered to children without disabilities.

Each school within the public education system that works disabled children is required to do its best to meet the needs of that child within reason. Schools operating within the public education system must provide the tools and mechanisms necessary for the disabled child in order for him or her to progress along with other classmates. This may involve providing an aid for the child, creating an individualized education plan, or even in some cases providing home instruction when it is not possible for a child to attend a standard public school program.

Along with IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990, extends civil rights to the disabled and makes discrimination on the basis of disability illegal. This helps ensure that schools within the public school system, as well as the programs offered by them, remain open to disabled students and students with other special needs. ADA makes it illegal for a public entity to deny a disabled individual the opportunity to participate in the same programs and activities as others. This includes education and educational facilities, and thus schools within the public school system fall well within the scope of these regulations.