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Legal Guide to Special Education: Knowing the Law and How to Use It

written by: Barbara • edited by: Amanda Grove • updated: 7/12/2012

The legal system in American school communities is complex with educational legal issues being determined at the state level. Knowing the law will provide special education students and their parents the power to insure equity and access to an education that is promised under the Constitution.

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    Constitution, States and the Special Education Law

    The 10th Amendment of the Constitution provides states with the power to enforce and protect the educational rights of students in American school communities. However, it is the State Court System that handles and provides the legal guide that school Districts follow and sometimes violate in the course of educating special education students.

    The State Court System has the following format of jurisdiction providing educational governance:

    • State Supreme Court
    • Intermediate Appellate Court
    • Superior Courts
    • Municipal Courts
    • Probate Courts
    • Special Trial Courts

    Special Trial Courts

    When a school related case is presented to the Trial Courts, it comes before the judge with lawsuit in hand and all parties standing firm to their belief in a certain "rightness" to their truth. In the Trial Courts, the following procedures are put in place:

    • The facts are presented and established to present a basis of context to the lawsuit. For example, if Student A was expelled from School X for selling drugs on campus and possessing a dangerous weapon, the facts presented must have facts of Student A caught selling drugs on campus and in possession of a dangerous weapon. The school must have pictures, credible witnesses, have found the drugs in larger quantities on Student A and have pictures of the weapon confiscated and a copy of the police report noting the arrest and the booking of the weapon into the evidence room. The school must be able to prove its case with facts that are irrefutable. Having a student statement where Student A admits to selling drugs and carrying a weapon for protection would be admissible if not obtained under duress and obtained within the students' due process rights.
    • Legal principles that pertain to the case on both sides should be presented as the legal context of the lawyer's arguments attesting to the validity of the existing charges and the expected legal outcome.
    • Trial is the place where both parties can present their case with supporting evidence that can include witnesses, student statements, teacher statements, victim statements and pictures that show the evidence of drugs and a weapon or the actual tagged drugs and weapon from the police evidence room.
    • Decision and outcome are the responsibility of the acting judge or jury in ascertaining whether the facts as presented are valid and provide definitive proof as to the allegations in question. Whether innocent or guilty, special education students must adhere to the directives of the law or deal with the consequences.

    It is not enough to know the law. For special education students and their parents, their legal guide must become a proactive action plan in not breaking the law in the first place.