Federal Laws Protect the Rights of Special Needs Children in Tennessee

Our Tennessee special education lawyers work to ensure that every child enjoys all the benefits and protections the law provides in Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Jackson

Your child is entitled to a free and appropriate education under the IDEA. This ensures that he or she will be given the necessary tools to make the most of the opportunities available. Additionally, a child with a disability is entitled to equal access and non-discrimination under Section 504 and the ADA.  If you would like to explore the broader qualification guidelines of Section 504 or the ADA, seek the counsel of a Tennessee special education lawyer at Gilbert Russell McWherter Scott Bobbitt, LLC. The Gilbert Firm’s advocacy for the educational rights of special needs children is well known throughout Tennessee and the surrounding areas.

An explanation of federal laws

Laws currently protecting the rights of special needs children include:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 2009
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended in 2009
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as reauthorized in 2004

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 assures special needs students broad protection, stating (in part): “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . . “ It further refers to any “local educational agency, system of vocational education, or other school system.” As applied to K-12 schools, it prohibits denial of public education participation, or enjoyment of the benefits offered by public school programs, because of a child’s disability. In 2014, the Department of Justice proposed new regulations in the Americans with Disabilities Act that would bring it into line with these broader definitions.

Some education administrators mistakenly assume that the IDEA has made the educational provisions of the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA superfluous. It has not. Both are very much alive.

Is Section 504 stronger than IDEA?

Children eligible for special educational benefits under IDEA are almost always entitled to Section 504’s protections as well, but Section 504’s disability definitions are broader. Under both laws, public school districts have an affirmative duty to identify and evaluate every qualified handicapped child residing in their jurisdictions who are not receiving a public education, and to take appropriate steps to notify them and their parents or guardians of the jurisdiction’s duties.

Unlike IDEA, Section 504 requires school districts to provide a “free appropriate public education” to each qualified student with a disability who is in the school district’s jurisdiction, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. While IDEA recognizes thirteen categories of disability and requires a need for “specialized instruction,” Section 504 defines individuals with disabilities in the broad language of the ADA, including as “disabled” any individual with a physical or mental condition that substantially limits at least one major life activity. It also includes persons with a history of such a disability and those who are perceived to have a disability.

The overlap of IDEA, Section 504 and the ADA is represented by this chart.  As one can see, the protections of 504 and ADA reach a broader population than just the IDEA:

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Finally, most public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies are recipients of federal financial assistance. Violations of Section 504 in the educational environment can be addressed not only locally with the relevant education agency, but with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. A Section 504 suit is a potent weapon, given that a proven violation can result in loss of the federal funding for the institution in question.

Representative cases and current litigation

The Gilbert Firm is a leader in representing parents and their students with special needs. A sample of our recent victories includes:

  • Obtained reasonable accommodations for a student with epilepsy to obtain his high school diploma through federal court action;
  • Obtained services for child with autism to re-enter public school, followed by an action for damages;
  • Obtained verdict against a school system for illegal discipline of a child;
  • Obtained settlement allowing child with autism to attend private school at public expense;
  • Obtained substantial settlements for parents wrongly accused by school s of child abuse;
  • Established retaliation law against parents in A.C. v. Shelby County Schools (6th Cir. 2013).
  • Obtained six figure settlement with the state of Tennessee for single child involving allegations of failure to provide proper administrative complaint procedures.

Currently, the Firm is working on these additional, significant projects:

  • Cases involving the least restrictive environment for students with pervasive disabilities and intellectual disabilities in Tennessee’s larger school districts;
  • Case involving state of Tennessee and a large school district, alleging that Tennessee encourages segregated schooling by financially rewarding schools.
  • Case involving the interplay between Section 504 and the ADA and IDEA, and how children who need “health services” may seek protection under Section 504 and the ADA, notwithstanding any protections which may be available under IDEA.

Dedicated Tennessee lawyers protect your child’s rights

The Gilbert Firm has built a solid reputation of success in special education law. Our attorneys can represent you in an IDEA case, 504 case or ADA case in due process and federal courts. If you believe that your child is being wrongfully deprived of educational rights to which they are entitled by IDEA, we want to hear from you. Please call 888.354.FIRM (3476) to discuss your complaint with an experienced Tennessee special education lawyer, or fill out our online contact form to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. We serve clients in and around Nashville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Jackson, and throughout Tennessee.