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Educational Rights of Special Education Students: Instrumental Laws Granting Them Their Rights

Updated on February 23, 2012

Protecting Your Freedoms


Passage of Special Education Laws and Student's Rights

The Right to Education and Litigation was addressed in the 1960's when parents and advocacy groups were concerned that students with disabilities were not receiving education that was addressing their needs. States varied on what constituted education for such students. As a result, some students were not receiving the services that they required. Such conditions spawned a revolution about how students with disabilities should be educated. In fact, the PARC and Mills consent decrees revolutionized the existence of due process for students with disabilities. It stated that individuals with Mental Retardation were entitled to due process rights, mandated evaluations, and services in an environment that was as normal as possible. However, the PARC decree failed to address students with other disabilities. This being the case, parents and advocacy groups were insistent that students with other disabilities be provided the same opportunities. The same rights were then granted to students with other disabilities as a result of the Mills decree.

The Mills decree and PARC decree lead to the famous passage of IDEA (individuals with disabilities education act). Simply stated, individuals with disabilities were entitled to the same rights as those without disabilities. States were expected to provide appropriate educational services to such students and in return the federal government would pay funds to the states to offset the costs that are associated with providing such services. If the state(s) did not comply with IDEA, they would not receive the funds. Likewise, section 504 of IDEA states that students with ADHD should still be provided services, even if found to be ineligible. Due to this, school psychologists became necessary, as they could be utilized for behavior modification programs for such students. Additionally, school psychologists would be involved in the planning and implementation of such plans.

Nondiscrimination in Assessment, Classification, and Placement was another law which has had a great impact on the function of school psychologists. Several cases broke ground for such laws, guiding the fact that students should not be discriminated against because of a lack of ability. In the case of Hobson v. Hanson (Reynolds & Gutkins, 1999), it was argued that students should not be tracked based on an intelligence test. Instead, the ruling stated that students could not be grouped by ability because of the results of an intelligence test. In fact, grouping should be based on innate abilities, which are not measured by intelligence tests.

In other cases, such as Diana and Guadalupe (Reynolds & Gutkins, 1999), it was determined that IQ tests were too "verbally loaded" (Reynolds & Gutkins, p. 1093) to be used with individuals who had limited English. In addition, parents argued that psychologists were not adequately trained to evaluate Limited English Proficient (LEP) students and schools limited opportunities for such students. Due to the ruling, schools were expected to use the primary language when assessing students with limited English or use nonverbal measures for limited abilities. Not only that, procedural safeguards were to be distributed to parents to inform them of their rights, as well as various measures were to be used to glean a better picture of the students’ abilities. This would include the assessment of adaptive behavior. As a result, school psychologists were needed even more so because of this need for further assessment.

While the prior two cases were instrumental in changing the way school psychologists operate, the case of Larry P was one such case that changed the way IQ tests were used with students of color. The ruling stated that there were inherent differences between IQ scores of black students and white students. It was stated that IQ tests were tailored to white culture, therefore they were inadequate for use with black students. Additionally, IQ tests did not correlate with academic achievement to the same extent that they did for white students. In this ruling, IQ tests were banned for use with black students if the diagnosis of MMR was made and placement was in a segregated class. However, in 1992 this ruling was rescinded when parents were infuriated that they did not have a say in whether an IQ test could be used with their child. According to the original ruling, black children could not be administered an IQ test to be placed in MMR classes.. What enraged parents was the fact that schools were labeling and placing black students in other classes on the basis of the IQ test. The injunction of this ruling stated that IQ tests were prohibited for use in identifying and placing black pupils in special education. This would even be the case with parental consent to do so.

Instrumental Cases Protecting Student's Rights in Schools

While laws have influenced the way school psychologists operate, other laws were created to protect the rights’ of students. One such protection refers to a student’s right to dress and style their hair anyway that they choose. Although schools have attempted to make cases against certain types of dress and hairstyles, it had been ruled that schools cannot prohibit a student from wearing certain clothing. The only way clothing and hairstyles could be banned were if they somehow interfered with the education of the student and other students involved. However, schools are granted the permission to adopt a dress code, so as long as it does not impose upon a student’s rights under the fourteenth amendment.

One law which may often may not be considered important to many students addresses the issue of married students. Much debate has circulated over whether married students should be permitted to attend school related events. In fact, such a dilemma has fueled much debate. It was generally believed that married students would somehow be distracting. Not only that, but schools felt by allowing married students in school activities, it would be encouraging marriage. Although this was a valid argument, the courts felt that such laws were infringing on a student’s "fundamental right" (Reynolds & Gutkins, p. 1127). The case of Sturrup v. Mahan illustrated that schools could not justify that marriage alone was a disruption to school activities. The ruling indicated that a student’s fundamental right took precedence over disruption.


Reynolds, C. R. & Gutkin, T. B. (1999). The handbook of school psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.


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