New Jersey children with disabilities and the parents of those children are afforded important rights in school that are not granted to children who do not have disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) strives to “ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400

Each school district must implement a system providing free appropriate public education in the “least restrictive environment.” IDEA requires that school districts provide children with education plan programs, taking into consideration each child’s specific disability. Furthermore, IDEA requires that schools districts provide special education and related services that make it possible for children to make meaningful education progress. Providing child

ren with the appropriate FAPE in the least restrictive environment means that a child must be included with children who do not have disabilities, to the maximum extent appropriate.

“Child with Disability”

Children between the ages of 3 and 21 and whom meet the definition of “child with a disability” are eligible to receive special education services at no cost to their families. A child is eligible to receive “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) if he or she has one or more of the following disabilities as defined N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.5(c) 1 through 14:

“Auditorily impaired” or “auditorily handicapped,” which includes “deafness” and “hearing impairment”;
“Autistic”;
“Intellectually disabled,” characterized as being either “mild”, “moderate”, or “severe”;
“Communication impaired” or “communication handicapped”;
“Emotionally disturbed”;
“Multiply disabled” or “multiply handicapped”;
“Deaf/blindness”;
“Orthopedically impaired” or “orthopedically handicapped”;
“Other health impaired” or “chronically ill”;
“Preschool child with a disability”;
“Social maladjustment”;
“Specific learning disability” or “perceptually impaired”;
“Traumatic brain injury” or “neurologically impaired”; and
“Visually impaired” or “visually handicapped”.

Section 504 Plans

Not all children can be characterized as having a disability as defined by N.J.A.C. 6A:14-3.5(c) 1 through 14, making them eligible for special education. However, children who suffer from other disabilities may still be eligible to receive accommodations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §794. Section 504 provides services, educational programs, and accommodations to a broader range of children. A person with a disability under Section 504 is one who “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarding as having such an impairment.”

If you have a question regarding New Jersey Special Education law, please feel free to call our office and ask for Matthew R. Tavares.


Matthew R. Tavares focuses his practice in Litigation, Employment Law, and School Law matters. He is a trained mediator and has successfully mediated small claims and special civil part matters.

Mr. Tavares received his Juris Doctor from Western New England University School of Law in 2013, and obtained licensure in New Jersey in the same year. Matthew was sworn in as a member of the New York State Bar in February 2016. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History and Criminal Justice in 2010 from the University of Delaware. Matt is a member of the Hunterdon County Bar Association and the New Jersey State Bar Association.

You may contact Matt at (908) 751-1551, or matthew@legalcounselnj.com.

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