Special Education and Section 504 in Texas
Do you want to learn how certain laws will affect your approach to special
education in your classroom? Even if special education and Section 504 are not issues for you now,
they probably will be at some point in the future as many students with disabilities are
included in the regular education program. Whatever your current situation, you should protect
yourself and your students by knowing the details of what special education students are entitled
to in the classroom.
What is IDEA?
The term "special education" generally refers to programs developed and run in accordance with
a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires that
all students who have a disability specified in IDEA receive a free and appropriate public
A disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or
more major life activities. Students are eligible for federally funded special education services
under IDEA if they have one of the following disabilities:
• Physical handicap
|• Emotionally disturbed
|• Visual impairment
||• Mental retardation
|• Learning disabled
||• Multiply disabled
|• Auditory impairment
||• Traumatic brain injury
|• Speech handicapped
What is Section 504?
Section 504 is part of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination
based solely upon disability in any program receiving federal financial assistance. Any
discrimination would subject the entire institution to the possible loss of federal funding.
Any public school that receives federal funds is subject to the requirements of Section 504. Students who have a disability that meets the general definition of a disability
but that does not fall into one of the IDEA categories above might be eligible for services under
Unlike IDEA, Section 504 does not describe a precise procedural scheme for implementation.
Instead, school districts set their own policies, but most use a process very similar to that used for
special education students. The procedures outlined below may not be technically required for 504
students but are probably similar to those in place for these students in your individual school
A student is eligible for services under either IDEA or Section 504 if:
- The student has a disability and
- Is unable to benefit from the regular educational program without modifications.
What if you think
a student may need special services?
Students must be assessed to determine if special instruction or related services are
necessary for the student to benefit fully from the educational program:
- When the student is suspected of having a disability
- After a referral of assessment is made by a classroom teacher or other source
(any person with reason to believe that a student may need special services can refer that
student for testing)
- Within 60 days from the date the referral was initiated
- With consent from the parent or legal guardian
- According to very particular procedural protections for the student and parents
- At the school’s cost
How are placement and services
- Admission, review and dismissal (ARD) committees make all decisions
concerning: whether a student is eligible for services;
the placement or setting in which the
student will receive those services; at what point the child no longer needs special education;
and, at least initially, what specific services the student needs.
- An ARD committee is composed, at a minimum, of a student’s parents, an
administrator, a representative from special education and a regular education teacher if the
student will be educated in the regular setting. In some circumstances, there may be additional
members. Other non-voting participants may be included if they are needed to provide helpful
- ARD committees develop an individualized education program (IEP) for each student. An
IEP sets out goals for a particular student and specifies how those goals will be met. It may
also include instructions for special therapy services, adaptive technology, modified class work
or a special behavioral intervention plan (BIP). If a student’s class work needs to be modified,
those modifications must be initially developed through the ARD process and placed in the IEP.
students with disabilities be educated?
- IDEA presumes that students with disabilities will be educated with their
peers without disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE) that is appropriate. (This is
where the concept of inclusion comes from.)
- Districts must provide
supplementary aids and services necessary to make
placement with peers without disabilities possible, such as computer-assisted technology, special
furniture, a modified curriculum, training for the teacher or provision of a special education
teacher or aidein short, whatever device or service is necessary for the satisfactory
implementation of the IEP in the regular classroom setting.
- When a student is placed in a more restrictive setting, the district must be
able to show that the regular setting was not appropriate for implementation of that student’s
- If the education of the other students in a class would be significantly
impaired by the presence of a particular student with a disability, then that class is not an
appropriate placement for that student. However, consideration first must be given to
all supplementary aids and services that might accommodate the student in that setting.
What exactly is an IEP?
- An IEP is an official document developed by an ARD committee that records
all aspects of a student’s educational program.
- An IEP should include, at a minimum, annual goals, short-term instructional
objectives, and all special education and related services to be provided to a particular
- Districts are responsible for seeing that all aspects of IEPs are properly
- Teachers are required to follow the modifications set forth in IEPs.
- Each teacher of a student with disabilities should be given relevant sections of
that student’s IEP.
The law on special
The legal information provided on this website is for general purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for
individual legal advice or the provision of legal services. Accessing this information does not create an
attorney-client relationship. Individual legal situations vary greatly and readers should consult directly with an
attorney. Eligible ATPE members should contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department using our
online system, MLSIS.
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