Introduction to Special Education Law

Liliana Yazno-Bartle, Esquire
Michael J. Connolly, Esquire
Edward G. Titterton, III, Esquire

In General


  1. Federal

  2. State


  1. Infants and Toddlers

  2. School-Age Children


  1. Federal: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (“IDEIA”), 20 U.S.C. §§ 1401-1482 (also known as IDEIA or IDEA). The IDEIA provides eligible students with the right to a free appropriate public education (“FAPE”). The federal regulations implementing the IDEIA are located at 34 C.F.R., Part 300.

  2. State: The state law regarding the implementation of the IDEIA is located at §§ 13-1371 and 1372 of the Public School Code, 24 P.S. §§ 13-1371 and 13-1372; and the special education regulations are located at 22 Pa. Code Chapter 14.


  1. Infants and Toddlers:  IDEIA defines eligible infants and toddlers as individuals under 3 years of age who need early intervention services because the individual:

    1. is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in one or more of the areas of cognitive development, physical development, communica-tion development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development; or

    2. has a diagnosed physical or mental condition which has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay; and may also include, at a State’s discretion, at-risk infants and toddlers.  20 U.S.C. § 1432(5).

  2. School-Age Children:

    1. A student is eligible under IDEIA if he or she is of school age and has one or more of the following physical or mental disabilities1:

      1. Autism;

      2. Emotional Disturbance;

      3. Hearing Impairment (including deafness);

      4. Mental Retardation;

      5. Orthopedic impairment;

      6. Other health impairment (“OHI”); or

      7. Specific learning disability;

      8. Speech or language impairment;

      9. Traumatic brain injury; and

      10. Visual impairment (including blindness);

    2. As determined by an Individualized Education Program (“IEP”) team, based upon recommenda-tions in an Evaluation Report (or ER), to need specially designed instruction and related services. A student who only needs related services is not eligible under IDEIA.

  3. Child Find Responsibilities

    1. IDEIA imposes an affirmative duty on school districts to locate and identify children in need of special education services. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(3)(A). Generally, all children with disabilities residing in the State, including children with disabilities attending private schools, regardless of the severity of their disabilities, and who are in need of special education and related services, are identified, located, and evaluated and a practical method is developed and implemented to determine which children with disabilities are currently receiving needed special education and related services. Id.

    2. Pennsylvania Regulations also impose a duty on school districts to locate and identify all young children thought to be eligible and students residing within the school district’s jurisdiction who are thought to be exceptional. 22 Pa. Code § 14.121(a). School districts are required to conduct awareness activities to inform the public of early intervention and special education services and programs and the way parents can request these services and programs. 22 Pa. Code § 14.121(b).

    3. All means all children, even if the child has never attended or will never attend public school. 34 C.F.R. § 300.125(a)(1)(i). Furthermore, because the obligation is an affirmative one, a parent’s failure to request identification and services does not relieve the school district of its child find responsibilities. See, e.g., Robertson County School System v. King, 24 IDELR 1036 (6th Cir. 1996).

    4. In a case decided in 2000, a hearing officer ordered the school district to reimburse the parents for the student’s private school costs, and also ordered the school district to establish a fund in excess of $38,000 to provide compensatory education to the student for the four years the school district failed to do so. Marple Newtown Area School District33 IDELR ¶ 115 (SEA PA 2000). The school district in this case violated its child find obligation because it had reason to know of the student’s disability in that it evaluated the student twice and the student participated in the district’s own Title I reading program. Thus, the student was entitled to a four-year compensatory fund equal to the amount paid by the school district per student for the years at issue. Marple Newtown Area School District33 IDELR ¶ 115 (SEA PA 2000).

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