How Does a Child with a Disability Qualify for Services from a Public School?

People sometimes want to know what the legal requirements are to get their child who may have a disability qualified for services from a public school. There are two primary statutes that cover kids in schools. One is the IDEA, which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the other one is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Each one is slightly different in terms of what the legal requirements are for qualification.
Under the IDEA, in order to qualify your child has to have a disability that is actually listed in the statute. There is a relatively extensive list of disabilities that qualify. In addition to having one of those listed disabilities, the disability has to cause the child to need special education services. Special education services are defined as any kind of modification to the delivery, the content or the methodology of the curriculum. If you have a listed disability and you need a derivation from the normal way that the content is provided, then your child will qualify.
Section 504 is very different. Instead of having a list of enumerated disabilities, it covers a child with any disability. Also, instead of needing special education services, the child merely has to show that the disability has a substantial impact on a major life activity. It’s a very different kind of a test. For example, a child who has problems walking and has to use a wheelchair, he qualifies because he has a disability, it can be any disability, and it has a substantial impact on a major life activity, which for him would be walking. A child with ADHD has a substantial impact on learning, which is a major life activity. A child with a peanut allergy has a substantial impact on possibly life itself. That child would qualify under Section 504.
The way it works out, any child who would qualify under the IDEA also qualifies under Section 504. It doesn’t work the other way around. You can qualify for Section 504 and not for the IDEA. If you qualify under either of these statutes, your child has some very strong rights to be provided with some very specialized services in the school.
If you suspect that your child may have a disability and may qualify under either of these statutes, you can start the process yourself by notifying the school in writing that you want your child evaluated and considered for these services. The process should be relatively quick, but schools tend to drag it out so it’s important to be forceful in your request, and if you have any questions, to seek help. If you have any issues like this in your own family or some other family that you know of, they should be advised to seek professional help from somebody who really understands the law.
The law firm of Mattleman, Weinroth & Miller, P.C., is composed of experienced education attorneys throughout the states of New Jersey and Delaware. Please contact the office for a free initial consultation and get any questions answered regarding your specific case.