What is Education Law?
Every child in the U.S. has the right to a free education. Federal and state laws ensure that children have equal opportunities in education, regardless of religion, race, color, national origin, disability, and sex. State constitutions outline how to provide and fund public education.
Education law encompasses all federal, state, and local laws, statutes, and policies that govern or impact education. While state laws deal with most of the funding and operations of schools, several federal laws are important in protecting the right to education:
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. This law provides grants to local education agencies for districts with low-income families. It also includes funding for rural schools, teacher recruitment, education of migrant students, magnet and charter schools, and Native American students.
- Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. This law provides educational opportunities for adults. It provides funding and programs for adult and workforce education.
- Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. Known as IDEA, this law supports educating students with disabilities, including early interventions and special education programs. It guarantees a free, appropriate education for disabled children, which means schools must provide reasonable accommodations to ensure equal opportunities for all children.
- Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Students and their families have a right to privacy under this law. It protects education records in schools that receive funding. Parents also have a right to access their children’s records.
- Higher Education Act of 1965. This law provides several types of financial aid for students pursuing postsecondary education and who meet qualifications. This includes the Federal Work-Study program and the Federal Pell Grants program.
- Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law provides vocational rehabilitation services to help people with disabilities gain skills for employment.
Several federal laws also protect students from discrimination based on protected statuses, like sex, race, or disability. These include the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and others.
What Do Education Lawyers Do?
Some education lawyers work for school districts on their legal issues. Others focus on policy and advocacy or work for government agencies. Families and children with legal issues related to education work with lawyers who focus on representing and advocating for individuals’ rights to free, equal education under the law.
These education lawyers help their clients deal with various issues from unfair discipline to discrimination to denial of or inadequate special education services. They represent their clients in discussions with school administrators and boards. They can also file lawsuits and take schools to court to advocate for their clients.
When Do I Need an Education Lawyer?
If you have a conflict with your school, you may be able to resolve it by talking to the administration or even going to the school board. When those options fail, you may want to enlist the expert advice and representation of an education lawyer. Consider hiring a lawyer in situations like these:
- You have failed in efforts to get your child the necessary special education services or accommodations.
- The school is discriminating against your child.
- Your child is being harshly or unfairly disciplined, for instance, expelled.
- School policies are unfair or unlawful, and you want to get them changed.
- Your child is being bullied, and the school is not doing enough to stop it.
- Your child’s right to free speech has been denied.
- Your child has been unlawfully searched or otherwise experienced privacy violations at school.
How Can an Education Lawyer Help Me?
Many parents first attempt to resolve school issues personally. This often works, and many administrators are happy to work with parents and families. Parents cannot handle or resolve all issues successfully.
Here’s what an education lawyer can do for you in a difficult situation:
- Educate you about the law
A lot of different laws come into play in educational issues, including those specific to your state. An education lawyer can explain the laws, identify those that apply in your situation, and clarify your rights so you can better advocate for your child.
- Defend your rights
A child has right at school, even though they are not adults. An education lawyer can advocate for you and your child and ensure their rights are not being violated.
- Provide third-party negotiations
Many educational issues are resolved out of court, but it’s helpful to have an unbiased third party to participate. A lawyer will have your child’s best interests in mind but can negotiate with the schools from more of an emotional distance.
- Improve services
All children are entitled to a free, appropriate education. This means that if your child has disabilities or limitations, the public schools must provide special services and accommodations, but many fall short. A lawyer can push the school to give your child what they need for an education equal to other students.
- Fight unfair discipline
A suspension or expulsion has a big impact on a child. If you believe your child has been disciplined unjustly, an education lawyer can help you get it overturned.
Choosing an Education Lawyer
Select a lawyer or a law firm with specific expertise and experience in education law. This area of the law is highly specialized, and a general lawyer will not get you the best outcome. Line up some options and interview them, asking important questions before deciding:
- How long have you been working in education law?
- How many students and families have you represented?
- What successful outcomes have you had for other families?
- How should we approach my child’s situation?
- Can you negotiate with the school, or do you think we will need to go to court?
- How long do you think the process will take?
- What are your fees and costs?
Once you have hired a lawyer to advocate for your family, provide them with all the necessary information. This may include any paperwork from the school, special education records, medical and educational evaluations, and communications with administrators, teachers, and the school board.
Share everything you know with your lawyer so they can best help your child. If you can work well with your education lawyer, you should be able to get a positive outcome for your student.