Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: Special Education for Students with Disabilities Volume 6 Number 1 Spring 1996

The Legislative and Litigation History of Special Education
Edwin W. Martin Reed Martin Donna L. Terman


The due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment protect the educational rights of children with disabilities. State law cannot override this constitutional protection. Some state laws spell out additional specific rights of children with disabilities, and some federal anti-discrimination laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, also provide important protections. However, for the purposes of understanding the obligations incumbent upon school districts, most of the law guiding current programs is spelled out in the IDEA and in cases interpreting the IDEA.

The IDEA's procedures are designed to encourage parents and school districts to work together in creating an appropriate education program for the child with disabilities. Ideally, there will be agreement between parents and schools about appropriate placement and services for individual children. Where there is not agreement, the IDEA spells out strong due process rights to ensure parental input to the process.

For some children, inclusion in the general classroom, with modifications or supplemental services, is most appropriate. For other children, separate programs may be more effective and appropriate. At this time, it seems likely that a range of educational placements will continue to be necessary to meet the requirements of the IDEA.