Knowing the laws behind education rights can help you be powerful advocate for yourself or your loved one in your educational journey. Two very important laws regarding disability and education are Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (504). This section is designed to provide some context to educational rights.


IDEA is the federal law which provides the foundation for SPED in public schools. The Purpose of the Law is to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living;” §300.1

Each student suspected of having a disability must be identified and evaluated to determine whether they have a disability and if they need from special education services. A diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy in itself does not guarantee student eligibility for special education. The law mandates that an evaluation must include a variety of assessment tools that will accurately demonstrate the child’s specific areas of educational need based on present level of academic achievement and functional performance.

Once a child’s evaluations are completed, the school will schedule a “multidisciplinary” team meeting with the parents, teachers and others familiar with the child to review the assessments and determine whether the child is eligible for Special Education. The evaluation process should also consider other factors, such as parent input, teacher recommendations, physical condition, social and cultural background, behavior and any independent evaluations. Should a child be considered eligible, the group conducts an Individualized Education Program meeting to determine appropriate services, supports accommodations and modifications needed based on the evaluations and goals.

Section 504 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public or private, that receives federal funding.

Under Section 504, A person with a “disability” is one who (1) “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,” (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. 34 C.F.R. §104.3(j)(1). Major life activities are defined as “functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”

Schools must inform parents of their intention to evaluate their child, yet written consent is not required.  Appropriate evaluations are ordered to determine whether a student has a disability with a multidisciplinary team meeting held to determine eligibility.  If a child is determined eligible under Section 504, yet not eligible under IDEA the team will conduct a 504 meeting to develop a 504 plan that outlines accommodations, modifications and other services needed for the child to have access to school programs and activities.

Helpful Links

  • Department of Education IDEA
    Individuals with Disabilities Education Act One-stop shop for resources related to IDEA 
  • Department of Education- Disability Discrimination
    Overview of the laws protecting against disability discrimination
  • Department of Education Office of Special Education (OSEP)
    Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services The Federal Department of Education’s in depth site concerning special education law. 
  • LD Online
    Article concerning Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act and public schools 
  • LD Online
    Understanding the Differences Between IDEA and Section 504 
  • LD Online
    Your Child’s IEP: Practical and Legal Guidance for Parents
  • Wrightslaw
    Parents, educators, advocates, and attorneys come to Wrightslaw for accurate, reliable information about special education law, education law, and advocacy for children with disabilities.
  • Yellow Pages for Kids
    Provides extensive resources to learn about and navigate special education, including state listings of Parent Training and Information Centers.


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