• Christina Delgado, M.Ed.

Timeline: Special Education Laws

Hello friends! So today's topic was chosen in hopes that it provides you all with a little bit of clarification in regards to the history of the Special Education laws in the U.S. Below is a timeline of our SpEd laws, legal changes over the years, and exactly what information is included in each law. Now, you may ask, why do I really need to know this?! It's just a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. All friends, the reason is simple. To best adovcate for your child, you need to know their legal rights! And trust me when I say that no one else (no teachers, educators, therapists, etc.) will care about your child and advocate for them like you will! Unfortunately, in many cases, parents of special needs kids are alone in navigating this Special Ed world. Therefore, you need to do your homework via research, readings, and communication with others in the SpEd community to learn as much as possible.


I hope you all find this timeline to be helpful! :)


1973: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

(Public Law 93-112)


It is illegal to discriminate against anyone solely do to their disability. It is illegal to deny benefits and participation solely do to a disability as well. Individuals with disabilities have the same legal rights and admission to programs and services. Individuals with disabilities related to speech, manual, and sensory skills are legally entitled to supplementary tools and other aids.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.11-15)

1975: Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (Public Law 94-142)


Students with disabilities have legal rights to the following:


- Free and appropriate public education (FAPE);

- Least restrictive environment (LRE); and

- Approved and appropriate accommodations and modifications during assessments, and an individualized education plan (IEP). - Parents have the right to view their child’s school records.

- Parents must be informed before any changes are made in the student’s educational placement, classes, or programs.

- Parents may counter their child’s records and any changes placement.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.11-24)

1986: Amendments to the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 99-457)


All legal rights provided under Education of All Handicapped Children Act, including FAPE, LRE, IEP, and parameters of parental involvement, are equally provided to special needs preschool children.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.11)

1990: Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 (Public Law 101-336)


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990 approves and reinforces all aspects of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. IDEA expands the disability categories by adding autism and traumatic brain injury. Also, IDEA provides the legally referred to definition of transition services while making assistive technology more accessible.


The following are the 13 disabilities listed under IDEA:

(Individuals are eligible for accommodations, modifications, and/or services needed.)

- autism

- deaf-blindness

- deafness

- emotional disturbance

- hearing impairment

- intellectually disability

- multiple disabilities

- orthopedic impairment

- other health inpairment

- specific learning disability

- speech or language disability

- traumatic brain injury

- visual impairment (including blindness)

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.12-27)

1990: Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

(Public Law 101-336)


American With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination of special needs individuals in adulthood.

ADA prohibits discrimination for special needs adults in the following categories:


- Transportation

- Telecommunication services

- Government agencies, services, and occupation.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.12)

1997: Amendments to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (Public Law 105-17)


In 1997, amendments were made to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This amendment provides greater detail about who needs to be present during Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings and different paperwork and procedures which are required for IEP documentation. Also, IDEA’s disciplinary standards and regulations were updated. In addition, states are responsibly for tracking and documenting the performance, growth, and evolution of each special needs student.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.12-29)

2001: No Child Left Behind Act of 2001

(Public Law 107-110)


No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is a law that applies to not only special needs students, but all students within the United States. NCLB requires that students from 3rd to 8th grade (including an additional year in high school) take an annual government designed assessment in mathematics and reading. The Reading First and Early Reading First programs allows NCLB to provide tier II and tier III interventions in all areas under the reading umbrella. Under NCLB, parents are entitled to flexibility when placement of their child’s school district and school choice. Finally, NCLB reinforces the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which provides funds the primary and secondary education along with other contributions to the American education system.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.12)

2004: Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA)


It is legally required that students with disabilities be taught by teachers who are highly qualified, have obtained a state teaching license, and certified in special education as well as core subjects. The improvement act of IDEA allows for 15% of special education funds to go to general education, in efforts to assist special needs children who have not been identified yet. Also, new methods are used to recognize and classify special needs students. Another improvement is that now discrepancy rates are not required when recognizing and classifying special needs students. In addition, IEP short term goals are no longer required, however long term IEP’s are permitted. Transition plans must be thought out and expressed with the end goal in place. Lastly, each school must identify a parent replacement for disabled students who are homeless or the responsibility of the court of law.

(Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 2006, p.13-33)


Be kind, be bold, be you!

Much Love,

Dr. D :)



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Credit: Ysseldyke, J. & Algozzine, B. (2006). The legal foundations of special education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


*Legal disclaimer: All views expressed on this cite are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity whatsoever with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated to in the future. The content shown above is 100% my personal opinion and me and only me is responsible for the content expressed above.

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