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An Overview of IDEA Parent Guide

Children With Needs - Students With Disabilities

In 1975, Congress first recognized the need to provide a federal law to help ensure that local schools would serve the educational needs of students with disabilities. The law they originally passed was titled the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. That first special education law has undergone several updates over the past 30 years. In 1990 the law got a new name — The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. The most recent version of IDEA was passed by Congress in 2004. It can be referred to as either IDEA 2004 or IDEA.

IDEA gives states federal funds to help make special education services available for students with disabilities. It also provides very specific requirements to ensure a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities. FAPE is the protected right of every eligible child, in all fifty states and U.S. Territories.


Today, more than 6 million school-age children in the United States receive special education services. Almost half — some 2.4 million — are students identified with a specific learning disability.


Federal Regulations

In addition to the federal law passed by Congress, the U.S. Department of Education is required to provide states with federal regulations that further define the meaning of the law including many of the important changes. These regulations also provide guidance to states as to how the law is to be interpreted and carried out in schools. Final federal regulations were published in August 2006 and became effective on October 13, 2006.


Information in this guide is based on both the IDEA 2004 law and federal regulations.


State Special Education Regulations

 As part of their responsibilities required by IDEA, every state must issue state rules or regulations that provide guidance on the implementation of IDEA within the state. At a minimum, state regulations must provide all of the protections contained in IDEA. Some states have additional regulatory requirements that go beyond IDEA. Therefore, while the information in this guide reflects the basis requirements of IDEA, it is critical that parents obtain a copy of their state special education regulations and understand the additional requirements they contain. So, consider the information in this guide only half of your information source.


State Resources

Parents are urged to keep in close contact with resources that can provide them with accurate and up-to-date information about their state’s special education regulations and procedures. Recommended resources include:


  • Parent Training and Information Centers.

    Every state has at least one Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). These centers are a required part of IDEA. Their primary purpose is to provide parents with timely information about special education, including state specific information, so that they may participate effectively in meeting the educational needs of their children. In addition to the PTI, many states also have Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRC) that are designed to serve the needs of low-income parents, parents of children with limited English proficiency and parents with disabilities. To locate the PTI and CPRC that serve your state or community, visit www.parentcenternetwork.org.
  • State Education Departments.

    Every state has an agency responsible for the supervision of public education. Many states offer handbooks or guides to help parents understand special education state policies and procedures. Be sure to check with your state’s education department for helpful information and resources. Complete information on contacting your state’s education department is available at wdcrobcolp01.ed.gov/Programs/EROD/org_list.cfm?category_ID=SEA


Using this Guide

This Parent Guide is designed to give you a brief yet helpful understanding of IDEA 2004. It provides basic information on the most important aspects of the law and also highlights major changes contained in IDEA 2004. When you seegreen_exclamation  [New] it indicates a change or new provision made in the most recent update to IDEA.


chapter3-referral-requestchartThis guide takes you through the special education process — a process that is the same regardless of your child’s particular difficulties or disabilities. Along the way, special emphasis is placed on the category of specific learning disability — only one of the thirteen disability categories defined by IDEA. Throughout this guide you will find:


  • Parent Perspectives — brief personal stories that relate the experiences of parents like you.


  • Terms — important words and terms that are listed at the beginning of each chapter. A complete listing is available in the Terms to Know section.


  • Tools — helpful information and practical materials for parents such as Checklists, Sample Letters, Charts, and Questions to Ask.


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