Learning disabilities and the law in the USA
Confused by all of the acronyms and terminology relating to school learning disability policy?
The first major piece of policy is the IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, which has been revised many times (most recently in 2004). This guarantees a “free and appropriate public education” (abbreviated to FAPE), where “appropriate” means adequately meeting the child’s needs as affected by any disabilities they might have, in the “least restrictive environment”, as mainstreamed as possible. It requires that students with a Learning Disability (LD) receive an Individual Education Plan (or IEP), which will describe what interventions will be taken, what the goals of the interventions are, and how those will be assessed.
These interventions come in two basic forms, push in remediation, where the teacher or aide comes into the classroom, and pull out remediation, where the student is taken out of class to a resource room. If a district is found to have not complied with these interventions, it can be held liable for the costs of private tutoring or educational therapy.
Another important piece of legislation relevant to education of students with LD is section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. This subjects public schools to federal anti-discrimination requirements regarding disability, which causes a broader set of students than IDEA. The 504 plan typically describes the accommodations that will make the curriculum and assessment accessible to the student. It doesn’t have the same enforcement mechanisms as the 504, although if a district is found to be in violation of a 504 they may lose federal funding.
Either an IEP or a 504 plan may include accommodations or modifications. Accommodations do not change the difficulty or content of the instruction or assessment, just make it more accessible - for example, allowing a student with dysgraphia to dictate responses to a test, or a note-taker for a student with ADD. Modifications are actual changes to the expectations - requiring a student to complete fewer test questions, or read books lower grade levels than the other students.