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(1.1) I hear a lot about federal and state laws, and federal and state regulations. What’s the difference?

(1.1) I hear a lot about federal and state laws, and federal and state regulations. What’s the difference?

Special education programs in California are governed by a combination of state and federal laws. Under these laws, school districts must provide each student with a disability with a free, appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE means special education and related services that are provided at public expense and without charge, meet appropriate standards, include preschool through secondary education, and conform with an Individualized Education Program (IEP). [Title 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section (Sec.) 1401(9); Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) Sec. 300.17.] Special education must be provided in the least restrictive environment. This means that to the maximum extent appropriate, all students with disabilities should be educated with students who do not have disabilities. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.114.] In addition, FAPE requires that special education students are involved and make progress in the general education curriculum and toward achievement of their IEP goals. [20 U.S.C. Sec. 1414(d)(1)(A); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.320(a)(1).]

In 1975, the 94th Congress of the United States passed The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). [20 U.S.C. Secs. 1400 and following.] California has also passed its own laws, which generally parallel IDEA and form the basis for providing services in this state. [California Education Code (Cal. Ed. Code) Secs. 56000 and following.]

The federal and state laws contain most of the provisions governing delivery of special education and related services. However, sometimes the law is unclear or leaves something out. Where this has happened, both the federal Department of Education and the California State Department of Education (CDE) have created regulations under the authority of IDEA or state law. The federal regulations are at Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 300 (34 C.F.R. Sec. 300), and the state regulations are at Title 5, California Code of Regulations, Sections 3000 and following (5 C.C.R. Secs. 3000 and following.)

Federal law and regulations create the broad framework within which California must function as a recipient of federal funds under IDEA. Since California has enacted its own statutes and regulations, these generally will be followed in providing special education in the state. However, because of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law and regulations must be followed whenever there is a conflict between state and federal law, except when the state law grants more rights to the individual. [Students of the California School for the Blind v. Honig (9th Cir. 1984) 736 F.2d 538.]