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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004)
What is IDEA?The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that provides for special education and related services for children, ages three through 21, with disabilities. IDEA, which is based on the Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, was last reauthorized in 2004. IDEA ensures that a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) based on the individual needs of students with disabilities is available. The law also guarantees rights for children with disabilities and their parents.
How does a child qualify for services under IDEA?To be eligible for special education services under IDEA, a child must meet two requirements:
- The child must have one or more of the following disabilities:
- Hearing impairment
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Visual impairment (including blindness)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Intellectual disability*
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Serious emotional disturbance
- Other health impairment
* Formerly known as Mental Retardation.
- The child’s disability must affect how he or she child does in school.
If parents (or guardians) believe that a child meets both these requirements, they should request in writing that the child’s school evaluate the child. If a school thinks a child should be evaluated, they may initiate an evaluation also. In either case, parental permission is required for an evaluation to take place, and the school must evaluate the child at no cost to the parents. If a child’s school refuses to evaluate the child, it must provide an explanation in writing. In this explanation, the school must also give information about parental rights under IDEA, including what steps to take to challenge the refusal.
A child may not be found eligible for special education services solely because of:
- limited English proficiency
- lack of instruction
What does an evaluation involve?
An evaluation is not just a simple test. When a child is evaluated, the school must consider a variety of information such as the child’s health, social and emotional well being, general intelligence, performance in school, and how the child communicates with others. Information regarding how the child responds to scientific, research-based instructional and/or behavioral interventions may also be part of the evaluation information.
The evaluation should include interviews with parents, the child’s teachers and others who are close to the child. The evaluation team may include the following people:
- Parents (or guardians)
- The child’s regular teachers
- Special education teachers
- School administrators
- Someone who can interpret the evaluation results and talk about what instruction may be necessary
- Representatives from any agencies that may be paying for or providing transition services
- Other qualified professionals
Once all the interview and testing information is gathered, the team will meet to decide if the child has a learning disability and, if so, what kind of special services would be most helpful. Parents have a right to be a part of every step of the evaluation process, including deciding the child’s eligibility for special education services.
What happens if a child is eligible for special education services?
Within 30 school days of a child being determined eligible for special education services, a meeting must be held to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Creating an IEP has two general goals:
- To set reasonable learning goals for the child,
- To outline the services that the school district will provide and where they will take place.
The IEP must include a transition plan if the plan will be in effect when the child is 16 (or earlier if appropriate). The plan will address what services the child may need to move from grade to grade, and eventually what agencies may be involved in providing services once the child is out of the school system.
Again, it is important that parents are a part of this process, as it is their right. The child also has a right to be present, and can benefit greatly from being part of the team that designs his or her education strategy.
IDEA requires that a child be taught in the least restrictive environment (LRE) possible. This means that when developing an IEP, keeping the child in general education classrooms with children in his or her grade and age group is a priority. If appropriate, it is preferable for a child to be in a regular class with in-class services and accommodations than in a separate special education class.
Your child’s IEP must be reviewed at least once a year. Meetings can be requested by either parents or the school at any time to discuss if and how the child’s needs are being met. A child must also be re-evaluated prior to termination of special education services.
What related services does IDEA provide for?Under IDEA, a child may be eligible for certain related services. Which services should be received is determined by the IEP team. Possible services include:
- Speech-language therapy
- Audiology services
- Psychological services
- Physical and occupational therapy
- Rehabilitation counseling
- Orientation & mobility services
- Medical services for diagnostic or evaluation purposes
- In-school social work services
- Parent counseling & training
A child may also be eligible for assistive technology devices, such as computers or voice recognition software that can help the child learn more effectively. If the IEP team decides the child would benefit from any of these services, the school is responsible for costs including any devices and the training required to use them.
What if a parent wants to put a child in private school?IDEA requires public school districts to provide special education and related services for all students with disabilities. If public schools cannot provide an appropriate education within the district, they must provide educational services outside the district. If the school district fails to provide an appropriate education to a student with a disability and the parent must place the child in a private school, the school may be required to reimburse parents for costs. If a free and appropriate education is available, but parents choose to enroll their child in private school, the district is not responsible for any costs.
What if parents disagree with decisions made about their child?Parents have a right to disagree with the school’s decisions regarding their child. If they are unable to resolve any disagreement in an informal way, there are formal steps that can be taken under IDEA.
- Mediation: Parents and school personnel sit down with an impartial third person (a mediator) and attempt to come to an agreement.
- Due process: Parents and the school present evidence to an impartial third person (a hearing officer), and he or she makes a decision on how to resolve the issue. If the issue is not resolved, parents may continue to challenge the school’s decision in court.
For more information on IDEA, visit the IDEA Parent Guide.