Disability Law Handbook

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

What kind of law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

It is a law that requires public schools to provide all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to the child’s individual needs.

Does IDEA apply to both public schools and private schools?

No. IDEA applies only to public schools.

Does IDEA apply to public colleges?

No. IDEA applies only to public school systems that end at grade 12.

Are all students with disabilities eligible for special education and related services under IDEA?

No. IDEA has a list of eligibility categories. In addition to having a disability that fits into one of the categories, the child must, by reason of the disability, need special education and related services in order to receive a free appropriate public education (sometimes referred to as FAPE). The eligibility categories are: orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, auditory impairment, visual impairment, deaf-blindness, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, learning disability, speech impairment, autism, multiple disabilities, and traumatic brain injury.

What do public schools have to provide to those students?

IDEA requires the school to develop an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each eligible student. IDEA also sets out the procedures that must be followed as the IEP is developed. Some of these include that the IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and the IEP must be reviewed at least annually.


Who decides on what goes into the child’s IEP?

The IEP team decides what goes into the IEP. At a minimum, the IEP team must have the following members: the student’s parent(s), the adult student, a representative of the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise special education services, knows the general curriculum, and knows about the resources available in the district, at least one special education teacher or service provider, at least one general education teacher who is responsible for implementing the student’s IEP, someone who can interpret evaluations as they apply to a student’s instruction, and others who have knowledge or expertise about the student, including related services personnel, as appropriate.

What are related services?

Related services are services that students may need in order to benefit, and to receive a free appropriate public education, from the educational program. Only students who are eligible for special education services under IDEA are eligible for these related services. Some of the more common related services are: special transportation, assistive technology, speech therapy, rehabilitation counseling, counseling, psychological services, occupational therapy, social work, and orientation and mobility training.

Can children with disabilities get educational services even before kindergarten?

Yes, if they are eligible for services under IDEA. From birth to age three, states have early intervention programs for children who have developmental delays. Services for eligible children who are three and older, but have not yet reached their 22nd birthday on September 1 of the current school year, are provided by local school districts.

If I think my child might need special education services, what should I do?

You should request that the school evaluate your child to see if s/he is eligible for special education services under IDEA. The school will ask you to sign a consent for testing. You have the right to know about the abilities, skills, and knowledge that the school will evaluate, as well as a description and explanation of the procedures, tests, records, and reports they will be using in the evaluation.

My child has a lot of behavior problems at school. How is discipline handled under IDEA?

If your child’s behavior interferes with learning, or is disruptive to the classroom, the IEP must address the behavior. The IEP team is supposed to identify positive behavioral interventions and supports, recognize antecedents to inappropriate behavior, and develop other strategies to address the behavior. You might want to ask for a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) and this may assist the IEP team in designing a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

What if my child already has an IEP, but I disagree with it?

It is important that both the parents and the school make a good faith effort to come to an agreement about the IEP, but sometimes, agreement is not possible. There are several options for parents in this situation. Parents may, of course, do nothing. In that case, the school will implement its plan, even over parental objections. Parents may choose to remove a child from public school in favor of private school or home school placement. Parents may request a mediation to try to resolve the areas of disagreement. Parents may speak with the State education agency about the possibility of filing a complaint. As a last resort, parents may file for a due process hearing. This is an administrative hearing presided over by an independent hearing officer.

Are there other laws that apply to students with disabilities in public schools?

Yes. Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act may apply to students with disabilities.

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