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e x c e p t i o n a l l e a r n e r s aprendedores excepcionales

Legislation and policy

Bilingual and bicultural learners
Attention Deficit Disorder
Emotional disorders
Communication disorders
Physical impairments
Aprendedores bilingües y biculturales
El Déficit de Atención
Desórdenes emocionales
Desórdenes comunicativos
Debilitaciones físicas

A vital mechanism in establishing the rights of special needs students, setting special education policy, and securing funding and resources for special education is legislation. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 made significant steps in this area, but by far the most groundbreaking law has been the Education For All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), passed by Congress in 1975. Later amended to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this federal legislation effected dramatic change for children with special needs (Council On Exceptional Children, 2003). Whereas thirty years ago the education system in the U.S. excluded up to one million students because of physical, learning and other disabilities, today IDEA covers the special education of 6.5 million students (Disability Rights Education Fund, 2003). Part B of IDEA recognizes ten categories of disabilities: specific learning disabilities, emotional disturbance, mental retardation, autism, other health impairments, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injury, speech or language impairments, hearing impairments, and visual impairments (Turnbull et al., 2002).


Separation or Inclusion?

Some special education is conducted in classes and even entire schools comprising only exceptional students.  A growing international movement in the field of special education, however, advocates a policy often called "inclusion": the practice of teaching those with special needs along with regular students (and providing the resources necessary for this structure). The purpose of inclusion is to promote the development of communities where all people are equally valued and have the same opportunities for participation. Many believe that inclusion helps prepare special needs youth for mainstream life and helps regular and special needs students build mutual respect, understanding, friendships, and working relationships (Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education, 2003).

Carole Borland is a special education teacher at Sierra Linda Elementary School in Oxnard, California, where inclusion is practiced in the form of mainstreaming, which refers to sending special education students to be part of general education classrooms for short periods on a personalized daily or weekly schedule.  "The more [mainstreaming], the better," she says, "but only as much as the child can handle, and only gradually.  Non-academic subjects are often easier for the child to handle."  Borland encourages general education teachers who receive special education students in their classroom to not be afraid to ask the special education teacher for help.  She also advises general education teachers to educate their class before bringing in a physically or other health impaired student for mainstreaming.  One way to help a special education student feel part of the general education class in which he or she is being mainstreamed, Borland recommends, is to have a member of the general education class serve as the student's escort (Interview 6/29/2003, Ojai, CA).



Parents, general education teachers, special education teachers, representatives from local agencies concerned with students with disabilities, and students (when possible) must jointly develop Individual Education Plans (IEPs), which are written statements addressing the goals and needs of each individual student and outlining his or her involvement in the general curriculum.  An IEP considers the results of the student's evaluations, the student's strengths, the parents' concerns, the appropriateness of assistive technology devices, and, if applicable, behavior impediments, English as a Second Language (ESL) needs, materials for visual impairment, and/or language and communication needs for deaf or hard of hearing students.

Every time an IEP is developed and/or revised (at least once a year), it must address:

  • the extent to which the student's disability influences his or her progress in the general curriculum
  • short-term goals related to meeting the student's disability-related needs
  • program modifications, supports for school personnel, and supplementary aids and services to be provided for the student
  • the extent to which the student will not participate in any general education classes and activities
  • modifications for state- or district-administered assessments of student achievement or explanation for why a given assessment is not appropriate and what alternative assessment will be used
  • the method for measuring the student's progress toward annual goals and reporting that progress to the parents
  • a schedule for implementing the proposed program modifications and services
  • transition plans

(Turnbull et al., 2002)



One provision of the IEP is that of transition plans.  From the age of fourteen, the IEP must address the student's needs as related to his or her anticipated postschool activities.  The aim of the IEP's transition plans is to facilitate movement from school to:

  • college
  • vocational training
  • employment
  • continuing and adult education
  • adult services (i.e., supported residential living)
  • independent living
  • community participation (use of services in the community available to people with disabilities) 

(Turnbull et al., 2002)

Principles of IDEA

There are six main principles of IDEA. First, the the zero reject principle disallows schools from refusing any students with disabilities.  Secondly, schools must conduct individualized non-discriminatory evaluations in students' native language in all areas of suspected disability. All information, including classroom performance and input from parents, must be considered.  Thirdly, the principle of appropriate public education mandates that schools provide services suited to the needs of each and every special needs child from pre-school through secondary school at no cost to his or her family.  Another principle is that of least restrictive environment, which encourages the integration of students with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent possible.  Furthermore, the law guarantees procedural due process, through which conflicts between the parents and the schools can be resolved.  In the event that the child's rights appear to have been violated, either party may request a due process hearing.  Finally, under the principle of parental and student participation, parents and students play an integral role in the decision-making process of the student's education (Turbull et al., 2002)

Early Intervention

In education policy, there is no substitute for early intervention.  Children up to age three at risk for disabilities can benefit greatly from early intervention programs.  These programs can preclude the development of some disabilities, reduce the effects of many disabilities, and improve the quality of life of the children they serve and their parents (Turnbull et al., 2002).  Early intervention programs need strengthening throughout the country.  Awareness campaigns and local child find initiatives must widely publicize screening and early diagnosis services (American Association on Mental Retardation, 2002).


For more information

(703) 620-3660



44 (country code) 117 344 4007

Project CHOICES (Children Have Opportunities in Inclusive Communities, Environments and Schools)
an initiative funded by the Illinois State Board of Education to increase the capacities of school districts and educational personnel to educate and provide supports and services to children and youth with disabilities  (630) 778-4508