Laws to Know

Subtopics included are:

HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996

  • The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides federal protections for personal health information held by covered entities and gives patients an array of rights with respect to that information.
    • At the same time, the Privacy Rule is balanced so that it permits the disclosure of personal health information needed for patient care and other important purposes.
  • The HIPAA Security Rule specifies a series of administrative, physical, and technical safeguards for covered entities to assure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of electronic protected health information.

FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

FERPA (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

  • FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children's education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.
    • FERPA gives parents the right to view their child’s educational record or request changes to it if they view it as inaccurate.
      • FERPA also protects your child’s privacy by restricting who is allowed access to a student’s record.
  • To learn more about FERPA, see the Portal's page on HIPAA/FERPA and go to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (USDOE).

FMLA: The Family and Medical Leave Act

The FMLA was created to provide a safety net which protects the job and health benefits of employees who have met certain criteria when they need to take time off for specific family or medical situations.

  • Examples of situations that are regulated by FMLA include:
    • the birth of a child
    • adoption of a child
    • caring for a severely ill family member
  • FMLA allows the eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off and up to 26 weeks for eligible military families.
  • To learn more about FMLA, go to Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act

The ADA protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities in ways similar to those protections provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin, and religion.

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IDEA is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.

  • IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.
  • Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2 years) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C.
  • Children and youth (ages 3-21 years) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.
  • To learn more about IDEA, go to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (CPIR).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

With the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Congress required that federally funded recipients make their programs and activities accessible to all individuals with disabilities.

  • The law states that, “No qualified individual with disabilities, 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.”
  • Section 504 protects persons from discrimination based upon their disability status.
  • To learn more about Section 504, go to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

NCLB: No Child Left Behind Act

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), is the nation’s general education law.

  • NCLB was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2001.
  • Although it is referred to as NCLB, it actually amends longstanding legislation, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
  • To learn more about what NCLB means for students with disabilities, go to No Child Left Behind (NASET).

Garret F – Supreme Court Decision

  • The Garret F Supreme Court decision of 1999 says that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts must supply related services, including medical services that are not required to be provided by a physician, to assure meaningful access to public schools for students with disabilities.
  • This case may be important for families whose child needs assistive technology and/or nursing care in order to access public schools.

Other Disability Legislation

  • Schaffer v. Weast
    • In 2005, the parents of Brian Schaffer, a child with a disability, sued their school district because they felt that the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) devised by the school district (and required by IDEA) was insufficient.
    • The case, Schaffer v. Weast (PDF Document), reached the Supreme Court, and on November 14, 2005, the court ruled that the party that initiates the suit—almost always the parents in such a case—is responsible for providing the burden of proof.
  • Arlington v. Murphy
    • In this case, Pearl and Theodore Murphy sued the Arlington Central School District, seeking to require them to pay for their child's private school tuition under IDEA. The Murphys were successful, and the decision in their favor was upheld on appeal. The Murphys and their attorney then sued to require that the School District pay for the experts' fees incurred in the course of the trial. On June 26, 2006 the Supreme Court determined that prevailing parents may not recover expert witness fees as part of the costs under 20 U.S.C.§ 1415(i)(3)(B).
    • However, the IDEA Fairness Restoration Act has been introduced to congress twice, most recently in 2011. If passed, the act would override Arlington v. Murphy and enable parents to recover their expert fees.
  • Winkelman v. Parma City School District
    • On May 21, 2007 the Supreme Court held in Winkelman v. Parma City School District, 550 U.S. 516, that parents have independent enforceable rights under the IDEA and may appear pro se on behalf of their children.
      • Pro se is a Latin phrase that means "for oneself" or "on one's own behalf.”
    • This case allows parents to appear in court on behalf of their child, rather than being represented by a lawyer.
  • Forest Grove School District v. T.A.
    • The case of Forest Grove School District v. T.A., 129 S.Ct. 2484, argued before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2009, addressed the issue of whether the parents of a student who has never received special education services from a public school district are potentially eligible for reimbursement of private school tuition for that student under IDEA.
    • The Supreme Court held that parents of disabled children can seek reimbursement for private education expenses, regardless of whether their child had previously received special-education services from a public school.
      • By a vote of six to three, the Court held that IDEA authorizes reimbursement whenever a public school fails to make a free appropriate public education (FAPE) available to a disabled child.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: April 2013; last update/revision: November 2018
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tina Persels
Reviewer: Gina Pola-Money