Having a disability does not automatically qualify a student for special education services under the IDEA. The disability must result in the student needing additional or different services to participate in school.
IDEA defines a “child with a disability” as a “child… with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance…, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; AND, who… [because of the condition] needs special education and related services.”
Children with disabilities who qualify for special education are also automatically protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, all modifications that can be provided under Section 504 or the ADA can be provided under the IDEA if included in the student’s IEP.
Students with disabilities who do not qualify for special education services under the IDEA may qualify for accommodations or modifications under Section 504 and under the ADA. Their rights are protected by due process procedure requirements.
The zero reject rule was affirmed in Parks v. Pavkovic, 753 F.2d 1397 (7th Cir.1985) and Timothy W. v. Rochester School District 875 F.2d 954 (1st Cir. 1989). The courts have ruled that even if the student is completely incapable of benefiting from educational services and all efforts are futile—even if the child is unconscious or in a coma—the school is still required to provide educational services to the child.