This article offers an overview of special education laws and their impacts on children with reading and other disabilities. It identifies some of the tensions in sorting decisions that place such children in "special" or "regular" classroom settings. It examines the definition of children with specific learning disabilities, since such children now constitute almost half of all the nation's 5.3 million children receiving special education and related services. It then summarizes the history and context for the emergence of strong federal law in 1975 protective of children's procedural and substantive rights in the special education decision making process. Although the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ambitiously promises a "free and appropriate public education" (FAPE) for all children with assessed reading and other disabilities, this article reveals that case law and an extensive array of advocacy strategies have had to be deployed to assist children and their parents to preserve and realize the Act's benefits. Since early educational intervention is of particular concern for children with reading and other learning disabilities, the article also examines the federal statutory basis for early education for children with developmental delays from birth to age five, as well as some state law mandates for early screening. It next explores some of the significant amendments of the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA and the ways such law can advance the national educational goal of reading competence for all children. The article concludes that children with, or at risk of, developing reading disabilities, like other children with disabilities, will continue to require multi-faceted advocacy by many actors, at many levels, if the promise of the IDEA is to be fulfilled.
Date Published: Jun 30, 1999
Journal of Law and Education