Parents Education Network

Public School Issues

Federal Law

Children with learning and attention disabilities are covered by three federal statutes:

  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA);
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The U. S. Department of Education has the legal authority to interpret and enforce IDEA, and the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education interprets and enforces the provisions of Section 504 and ADA that pertain to education.



The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Children may qualify for services to the handicapped under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 if their learning or attention disability substantially limits a major life activity, such as learning. Section 504 prohibits programs that receive federal dollars from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. It requires public schools to make accommodations for eligible handicapped children, whether or not they qualify for special education services under IDEA. Section 504 could therefore provide modifications for children with learning or attention disabilities in regular classrooms, such as help with note taking and changes in assignments and testing procedures.



The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities at work, at school, and in public accommodations, and is not limited (like Section 504) to those organizations and programs that receive federal funds. ADA requires schools to make reasonable accommodations for handicapped persons, and it applies to both public and private nonsectarian schools, from day care to graduate school.


Further resources:



Advocacy Services

Parents Education Network (PEN), 6050 Geary Blvd., Ste. 101A, San Francisco, CA 94121    Phone: (415) 751-2237

PEN is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, federal tax ID# 43-2008436.

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