The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is an important piece of American legislation that protects and defines the educational rights of students with disabilities. All children have the right to receive a quality education and IDEA seeks to preserve and deliver on that right. Whether you are a student with a disability yourself or a relative or teacher of a student who is differently abled, knowing the basic premises that underlie the act and its application is a good idea. IDEA.ed.gov explains that, “IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.”
Before the IDEA, there was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA). This act was in place from 1975 to 1990, when it was renamed IDEA. IDEA states that all children who have a disability will be provided with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible. IDEA is comprised of four main parts, A through D. Part A deals with the general rules of the law, B deals with the educational and other types of assistance provided to disabled young people ages three to 21, C focuses on young children ranging from infants up to age three and D describes the federal involvement in and support of IDEA.
In the book, Legal Aspects of Special Education, Kurt E. Hulett outlines the six primary elements that make up IDEA services: guaranteed appropriate evaluation, the Individualized Education Program (IEP), FAPE, Parent and Teacher Participation, LRE and protective procedural safeguards. Within these core areas, additional topics such as discipline, transitions out of school and confidentiality are also key.
Schools are required to carry out an appropriate evaluation of students whom they suspect may have a disability. If the child is identified as having a covered disability, they must also be found to need special education in order to make progress in school in order to be served under IDEA. If a child is found to have a disability covered under IDEA and to need services, an IEP will be developed.
Understood.org shares that these 13 types of disabilities fall under IDEA: “Autism, Deaf-blindness, Deafness, Emotional disturbance, Hearing impairment, Intellectual disability, Multiple disabilities, Orthopedic impairment, Other health impairment (including ADHD), Specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, among others), Speech or language impairment, Traumatic brain injury and Visual impairment, including blindness.” Over 40 percent of children served have a specific learning disability.
An IEP is an annually updated plan and contract that outlines how the school will serve the student and what their specific goals will be in doing so. Parents are included and empowered at every step of the IDEA IEP process. Parents attend the IEP meeting and have a say in how their children are educated. Procedural safeguards are in place to protect the parents’ and children’s rights. Children have a right to receive education services in the LRE—this means that they will participate in general education to the maximum extent found to be appropriate and possible. IDEA serves children until they graduate from high school or reach age 21.
If you are a parent who is beginning the evaluation or IEP process and feels overwhelmed, try to take things slowly and ask as many questions as you like. The school’s special education team and other educational, therapeutic and supportive professionals are there to serve you and your family. Many parents have taken this journey before you and you may find online guides, parent organizations and communities helpful. The Council for Exceptional Children and the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities offer extensive parent resources.
Written by Julia Travers
If you are concerned about your child’s performance in school and think they might have a learning disability, contact us for a free consultation. Our Psychologist, Dr. Guada, works with families to conduct testing to determine if there is a learning disability and how to handle it.