Your Rights In School: A Good Education for All

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Everyone should get a good education. A good education helps you get a job, helps you learn how things in the world work, and prepares you for living life. 

Kids from ages 6-18 have the right to an education in a public school. A public school is a school for kids run by the government.  A private school is a school that is not owned by the government. Some kids go to private schools. Some private schools get money from the government. When a private school gets government money, it has to follow the government’s rules. 

Kids with disabilities have the right to an education too. Sometimes, laws, programs, policies, or prejudice make it hard for kids with disabilities to get a good education. 

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is an advocacy organization that fights for the rights of autistic people. This includes the right to have a good education. We created this page and its key issue pages to tell you what you need to know to understand the fight for all students to have equal access to a good education. 

On this page, we will go over the key laws and regulations you need to know about to understand the key issue pages. (We will explain what a regulation is in the “Key Regulations” section.) Each key issue page covers an important subject related to education that disability rights advocates need your help with. 

Key Laws 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law about public schools that was passed in 1990. The law says that students with disabilities have the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE). A “free and appropriate public education” means that: 

  • The education is free. The student and the student’s parents do not have to pay any money for the student to attend school. 
  • The education the student gets helps the student learn. This is what the word “appropriate” means.

Before the IDEA was passed, many students with disabilities were not allowed in public schools. When they were allowed in school, the students sometimes did not learn anything at all. 

The IDEA makes it so that all students have the legal right to learn. 

The IDEA says that most students with disabilities should be in the same classrooms as people without disabilities. This part of the IDEA is called the least restrictive environment (LRE)

The least restrictive environment means that students with disabilities should be able to get anything they need to learn in the regular classroom. 

Students with disabilities also get a document called an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The IEP tells the school: 

  • what the student needs to learn 
  • the supports they need to learn. 

Schools, parents, and students can work together to write the IEP. Then, the school has to follow the IEP. If they don’t follow the IEP, they aren’t respecting the student’s rights.

The IDEA is a very important law. 

The Rehabilitation Act

The Rehabilitation Act is a disability rights law that was passed in 1973. Section 504 of that law says that the U.S. government and anyone who gets government money can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. This means public schools and private schools that get government money can’t discriminate. 

Students have to be able to get anything they need to learn from the school. Examples of things students could need are:

  • iPads
  • computers
  • letterboards
  • large print
  • sign language interpreters, and
  • support workers.

Some students have a document called a Section 504 plan. The Section 504 plan says what the students needs in order to learn. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a disability rights law that was passed in 1990. The ADA does lots of things. It does some of the same stuff the Rehabilitation Act does, like make it so that schools can’t discriminate. 

Being able to say and show things to other people – and being able to learn things from them – is called communication. The ADA says that people with disabilities have the right to communicate. They have the right to communicate in the way that works best for them. They have the right to anything they need to communicate. This is called the right to effective communication. 

All schools – including private schools – have to follow the ADA and the Rehab Act. You can learn more about effective communication by reading the subsection “Effective Communication: Your Right To Your Voice.” 

Key Regulations 

Regulations are rules government agencies make. The following are important education regulations: 

  • WIOA’s vocational rehabilitation (VR) regulations help define what counts as a real job in the community. They also make it harder for schools to send us to sheltered workshops — which are places where people with disabilities do segregated jobs. They are bad. 
  • The U.S. Department of Justice created regulations on effective communication in schools. These regulations help show what “effective communication” means. They make it easier for students to get the support they need in schools. 

ASAN Toolkits and Resources on Education Rights

ASAN Position Statements and Work on Education Rights

ASAN Action Alerts on Education Rights