Question Seven: How are my responsibilities affected by federal, state, and local policies?

An important part of being a professional is to abide by the laws, regulations, and policies that affect your profession. The laws and regulations that address the needs of students who have disabilities ensure that students' and families' legal rights are protected. The laws and regulations also articulate what is expected of you as a classroom teacher and by the other professionals in your school district.

The laws and regulations help clarify:

  • Who is covered by the laws pertaining to special education and disabilities;
  • Who must comply with the laws;
  • What the requirements are including due process requirements;
  • Definitions of terms such as a "free appropriate public education" and "least restrictive environment;"
  • Requirements surrounding assessment for identification and monitoring students' progress;
  • Requirements for planning students' transitions;
  • Information about how to handle complaints and disputes that may arise.

Three major pieces of federal legislation affect your role as a classroom teacher as you work with students who have disabilities. The first piece of legislation is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The second is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the third is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that ensures services to children who have disabilities. The law 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 who have disabilities. The law identifies 13 categories of students who exhibit conditions that result in their need for special education and related services.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act considers a person to have a disability if the person: (a) has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (b) has a record of such an impairment; and (c) is regarded as having such an impairment. The Colorado Department of Education has compiled a handbook titled, Section 504/ADA: Guidelines for Administrators and Educators that explains the law and its implications for educators.

The third piece of legislation with which you should be familiar is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination based upon disability. is the federal government's one-stop web site for people who have disabilities, their families, employers, veterans and service members, workforce professionals and many others. The website has extensive resources for educators about the Americans with Disabilities Act including resources for early childhood and elementary educators and middle and high school educators.

The answers to the questions below will help you learn more about how federal, state, and local policies affect your responsibilities as a classroom teacher.