Indiana Special Education Law — An Introduction

Please keep in mind that the following information provides only a brief introduction and presents a minimal understanding of certain laws. It is not intended to be a compendium of all disability laws and their respective provisions, which may or may not affect your child. It is simply educational in nature to help you understand the purpose of these important laws or the basis for possible relief when violations have occurred.

There are numerous federal and state laws that provide legally enforceable rights to special needs children and their parents, but trying to navigate through these complex laws on your own can be overwhelming and exceedingly difficult for any parent. At times, it may even appear hopeless, especially if you're not getting straight answers or getting half-truths from the school district. In fact, some local education agencies may not be providing you and your family with any help or assistance whatsoever.

As a result, and understandably so, some parents may feel like throwing in the towel because of the school district's lack of responsiveness. However, all of their instincts tell them not to give up. They know in their hearts that something isn't right with the educational process, academic achievement or treatment of their child. But, nonetheless, they still feel powerless against the formidable and omniscient school district.

Well, don't despair – there is still hope. Specific federal and state laws were created to address or remedy the wrongs committed by your local school district. Most of these laws are collaborative in nature and provide their own unique rights and protections to special needs students, their parents, as well as the local education agency (LEA).

For example, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) is considered the flagship or definitive resource for special education students. The State of Indiana must follow this federal law or, if it chooses, it may provide even higher rights and protections to children with disabilities. However, these protections may not be lowered by the state, unless given discretionary authority to do so.

Under IDEIA, there are numerous requirements, including but not limited to, the child find requirement. This requirement is often an area of dispute between the parents and the school district. It essentially places an affirmative duty on teachers and the school to identify and evaluate students who have a suspected disability.

If your son or daughter has been evaluated and is determined to be a child with a disability, then your child is entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). The FAPE provision essentially provides special education and related services to your child at no cost.

Other common areas of dispute between the parents and school district include failure to devise or implement and Individualized Education Program (IEP) for students with disabilities, and failure to correctly manage disciplinary issues facing these children. In fact, for certain disciplinary matters, a manifestation determination meeting and hearing may be necessary to prevent the expulsion of a student.

Sadly, however, despite the advent of proactive federal and state legislation to protect our children and prevent the above disputes, some schools still blatantly fail to follow these and other fundamental laws for whatever reasons.

As such, only after the parents' efforts have been rebuffed at every turn, and they are forced to seek outside counsel for their child, do the public employees of a school district react to the parents' pleas for help.

If your family is in need of solid legal representation, please refer to our contact page.