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Special Education Laws in Texas

Friday, December 02, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The education of students with disabilities has come a long way since Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in the 1970s. Policymakers have updated this set of rules and regulations regularly over the years, reflecting extensive research into effective, inclusive educational methods for students with disabilities, as well as the development of appropriate assistive technologies. The name of the legislation changed in 1990 to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in order to represent a more person-forward approach and new laws to enforce it.

These federal laws govern state special education programs but leave room for states to interpret and augment the requirements according to the specific needs of their school systems. Special education laws in Texas follow the mandates of IDEA and expand on them to facilitate their implementation into the Texas educational system, in accordance with both the Texas Education Code (TEC) and the sections of the Commissioner’s and State Board of Education Rules having to do with special education, as outlined in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC). Candidates for an online Master of Education in Special Education degree specific to Texas’ educational system will study this extensive body of rules and laws, including the theories and research that support them and how Texas schools implement them.

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

Although IDEA is a complex and thorough set of laws and regulations, the basic tenets of the act break down into three concepts: Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and the Individualized Education Program (IEP). These three concepts govern the TAC and all special education laws in Texas.

FAPE requires that schools provide free individualized education to all people, tailored to their unique educational needs and the state’s educational standards, from preschool through secondary school. The inherent goal of FAPE is to prepare students with disabilities for life after secondary school, including post-secondary education, independent living and employment.

The LRE promotes the integration of students with disabilities into standard classrooms and programs to whatever extent is possible and reasonable. As the IDEA regulations state, “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities including children in public or private institutions or care facilities, are educated with children who are non-disabled.” By law, schools may only place students with disabilities into specialized exclusive programs when those programs better serve the students’ unique needs and the goals of those programs cannot be met in inclusive classrooms using assistive technologies.

The IEP requires that a team of parents, guardians, teachers and administrators create a written plan to organize a student’s academic education as well as his or her nonacademic and extracurricular activities that suits the student’s unique needs and abilities. Furthering federal mandates, Texas law places heavy emphasis on preparing students of all abilities for a successful life after school.

Special Education Laws Specific to Texas

Most of Texas’ Education Code and Administrative Code align closely with IDEA, although the Texas State Board of Education rules do expand on many laws to make them fit within other practices mandated by the Texas educational system. For instance, IDEA requires states to provide FAPE to all special education students from the age of three to 21 — or until they finish secondary school or secure appropriate employment or technical and job training programs. However, for students aged 18 to 21, IDEA leaves the definition of “finished” with secondary school up to the state. Texas law specifies that students with disabilities are to receive special education until they graduate with a high school diploma, meeting all credit and state assessment requirements as decided by each student’s ARD (admission, review and dismissal) committee.

Due to the emphasis on preparing students for life after school, special education laws in Texas also include regulations on very specific aspects of a student’s education, such as the transfer of assistive technologies between schools, specialized training programs and the home. This also touches on an integral part of the Texas special education system: promoting and emphasizing the importance of including families and guardians in the planning and implementation of a student’s care and education. IEP law outlines this requirement, but Texas takes it further by offering extensive training services and networks for parent support and education, both through online resources as well as local and regional training and support programs.

In addition, Texas integrates special education policy with other person-forward educational laws, such as the Texas Anti-Bullying Law. This law allows parents and guardians who feel their child is a victim of bullying to request that administrators transfer their child to a more inclusive class within the school or school system. Special education laws in Texas also outline specific policies regarding discipline for students with disabilities, ensuring that discipline is responsible and appropriate to a student’s physical and mental or emotional needs — physical restraint is only allowed when students are endangering themselves or others.

These are just a few of the special education laws unique to the state’s educational system. There are additional rules to regulate residential programs, schools for the deaf and blind, transportation for students with disabilities, extended school year (ESY) services, extracurricular and nonacademic programming and much more. Earning a master’s degree in special education online can offer the special education professional extensive knowledge of national and state-specific law regarding their field, as well as an in-depth understanding of the theories, methods and practices that can improve their ability to educate and help students with disabilities.

Learn about University of Texas Rio Grande Valley online M.Ed. in Special Educational program.


Council for Exceptional Children: Special Education Research

Texas Education Agency: Special Education Rules and Regulations

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