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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

10 May, 2016


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 and had great amendments in 2004.

IDEA dictates how states and public agencies give educational related services to children ages 0 – 21 who have been diagnosed with a disability.

There are currently thirteen categories of disabilities in which a child may fall under and require services under IDEA.

IDEA essentially replaced the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) that was enacted by Congress in 1975. This act required equal education for children with physical and mental disabilities. Before this law was passed, only 20% of all children with disabilities were being taught in public schools. Most states had laws that did not let children with certain disabilities from attending. When EHA was enacted, there were more than one million children who did not have access to public education due to their disability.

Another significant component of IDEA is that the law only refers to states and their local agencies who accept federal funding under IDEA. States who decide not to accept any of these federal monies are not subject to IDEA. However, all states have currently chosen to accept monies and are subject to IDEA.

One of the major facets of the 2004 IDEA amendments was the clarification that each child with a disability will be given by a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living. In addition, all qualified children from preschool through age 21 will be offered services specific to their unique learning needs.

Specific Requirements

IDEA has various provisions as it pertains to schools. Not every student who has a disability will qualify for special education services under IDEA. The disability must be such that it is necessary for the student to receive differentiated services or additional services to participate in school.

Disabilities that meet these requirements include mental retardation, speech and language impairments, visual impairments, auditory impairments, orthopedic impairments, autism, severe emotional disturbance, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities.

Students who meet the requirement of a disability that can hinder school participation will be placed on an Individual Education Program (IEP). Schools should create an IEP for every special education student. An IEP is individualized to meet each child’s specific needs per their disability. An IEP is the backbone of a served child’s education.

The IEP is highly specific to each individual need and includes the services to be provided, how often they are to be given, and includes special accommodations or modifications for that student. A requirement of IDEA is that each child served be placed in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) to meet their needs. The LRE is the best place to optimize a qualified child’s learning.

If a child qualifies, an IEP team will consist of the special education teacher, a regular classroom teacher, a school administrator, the parents of the child, a school psychologists and/or other pertinent persons. The children themselves may be included in the meeting if they and /or their parents wish them to be. The team meets, discusses, and re-evaluates the child’s IEP at least one time a year.

IDEA also gives related services to students who qualify. There is a large range of related services including speech-language pathology, audiology services, physical and occupation therapy, counseling services, and several others. Qualified students for related services will have the specifics of their related services (service required, time served, location, etc.) spelled out within their IEP.

IDEA also provides provisions for the discipline of a student with a disability. When a school official is handling the discipline of a child with a disability, they consider that disability. Suspension in particular falls under this portion of IDEA. A student on an IEP cannot be suspended for more than a total of ten days without a special hearing to identify whether their actions were because of their disability or result of the school to implement the IEP. If it is determined that the student’s actions were a result of a manifestation of their disability, then they may not be suspended. The 2004 IDEA amendments does provide special exceptions for students who bring weapons to school, who possess, use, or distribute drugs at school, or cause serious bodily harm on another individual.

Each district has the duty to identify all students with disabilities within their district. Most districts have a child find policy to assist with this. This policy may require the school to place notifications on their website, in the local paper, and/or to distribute flyers within their community.

IDEA also gives certain procedural safeguards to protect the rights and children being served and their families. Parents always have a right to review a child’s educational records. They also have the right to join in the identification process and the IEP team meetings, as well as placement decisions. They should also receive prior written notice before an IEP meeting convened. They may request independent educational evaluations at the district’s expense. They may also request placement changes at which time an IEP meeting will be set up to discuss the reasons they feel a change is needed, and the IEP will decide whether to go ahead and make these changes.