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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA) is a United States law outlining how both the individual states and public agencies must provide special education to children with various disabilities. IDEA identifies fourteen categories of disabilities and mandates certain educational adaptations for children to the age of 21.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Defined

IDEA defines disability as:

Children must require additional services in the educational setting in order to qualify. Most of these students then require an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that specifies both the educational goals of the student and the modifications that the school will use to accommodate the child.

The original Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was signed into law in 1975.  The passage of the act had broad implications for the education of children with disabilities in the American educational system. It has been undergone several changes since its original inception; however the underlying principle and intent have remained the same.

The act established six essential principles or components to provide guidelines for special educators in the country.  The first principle mandated that all children were entitled to a free appropriate public education.  A child’s parents could not be subjected to additional expenses because the child was disabled.  Appropriate indicated that the education given the child would be appropriate for the child’s individual needs and consider his specific disabilities when determining these needs.  The second component stated that a child with a disability was entitled to an appropriate evaluation.  This evaluation would be conducted by trained evaluators.  The evaluations were not to be culturally or racially discriminatory and the child would not be subjected to unnecessary evaluations.  Essentially, only the most appropriate tools and assessments necessary to determine the needs of the child would be utilized.

The Individualized Education Plan was the third component of the Act.  This part of the Act requires that a team of educators working with the student establish a written plan for the student outlining the plan of how the team will “meet the unique educational needs of each student with disabilities.”  This part of the Act can be challenging for team based upon the diverse disabilities the team may encounter in the needs of its students. 

The Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) rule was established with component four.  Special needs students are to be educated in the least restrictive environment necessary to meet their needs and ensure their safety.  Ideally, students will be placed in general education classes as frequently as possible under this provision.   Component five ensured collaboration with the students and their parents; parents and students should be a fundamental part of the decision-making process in the student’s educational destiny.

Component six saw to the safeguards for the child and the parents regarding the needs of the family.  It established independent outside evaluations as necessary, access to records, the right to request or refuse more evaluations for the student and other safeguards to protect the student’s best interest.

A series of updates and changes were made to the Act over the years.  One of the oversights in the Act was that it covered school age children starting at the age of five.  Since many children begin school programs in the Pre-K years, this was amended in 1986 with Public Law (P.L) 99-457; the law was extended to protect 3 and 4 years olds and also to intervene for identification of special needs children from birth onward.  In 1990, the law was again amended.  P.L 101-476 expanded the scope of what a child was entitled to under the definition of a “free education.”  Children with special needs were entitled to a free education outside of the classroom setting, such as the home, a rehabilitation setting or other location. 

In 1997, P.L. 105-17 expanded the crucial concept of the Individualized Education Plan. The core team for the IEP was a special education and a general education teacher. Furthermore, the states were required to report on the progress on all students including primary and secondary grades, not just those special needs.  This amendment also discussed “considering” discipline when a special needs student’s behavior interferes with his learning or the learning of other students.

The most recent changes were adopted in 2004 under IDEA 2004: P.L. 108-446.  A crucial change was the concept of the IEP team.  It indicated that the parent would also be a part of the IEP, and when appropriate, the child would be included.  At the parent’s approval, other agencies with specialized knowledge regarding the child’s particular disability may be utilized in the IEP.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Least Restrictive Environment


IEPS must meet the specialized needs of a child with a disability in the Least Restrictive Environment. This means that every child must be given the opportunity to participate in an atmosphere that is both conducive to the child’s learning. In mainstream education, activities should also cater to the individual needs of the child as much as possible. Including children with disabilities in the educational setting with non disabled children promotes inclusion, acceptance and provides the opportunity for children to participate in the regular school curriculum. IDEA also includes procedural safeguards designed to protect the rights of children and their families.

The first step in the referral process is identification of a child with possible special needs.  A parent, teacher, or principal with the child can refer the child for evaluation.  If the parent is not the person requesting evaluation, the parent must be contacted to obtain permission for the evaluation. There must be at least two pre-referral interventions attempted before formal evaluation of the child as a special needs child.  These interventions attempt to deal with and rule out other possible causes of the noted issue, such as disciplinary issues.  If the evaluators determine that there is still a further need for assessment after these interventions, the child is sent for formalized assessment.

The formalized assessment takes a multidisciplinary approach and attempts to determine the various needs of the child. The assessors are a multidisciplinary team to ensure that the child is not limited in the assessment techniques used and also to guarantee that the children who qualify for services are not deprived of the services needlessly. Several assessments are given to the child; no single test is utilized in determining the child’s eligibility under the IDEA. Criterion-referenced tests determine skills that the child is able to complete and a measure of the performance of these skills. The results are reviewed with the parents and the child upon completion. An Individualized Education Plan is then formulated for the child.  According to the law, the team has thirty days to formulate the IEP after determining that the child is eligible for services under IDEA.

Once the IEP is written, the school must implement the plan.  The parents and school officials schedule a meeting regarding the implementation of the plan.  The parents must agree with the IEP or the school does not have the right to implement it. If there is a significant disagreement over the IEP that the officials and the parents can not come to agreement over, the school has mediators in place to settle the differences over the IEP implementation.  Obviously, the goal of the mediator is the best interests of the child. The IEP is reviewed annually to determine what changes are necessary due to the child’s development and the goals and objectives as the child matures and grows. Every three years, the child is re-evaluated to determine if the child is still eligible for benefits under the IDEA.  The overall goal of IDEA is to move the child out of special needs and back into the general education program.  This is considered both in the overall best interest of children and is also more cost-effective, due to the high costs of conducting IDEA. Educators understand, however, that many children will never lead IDEA and remain in the program throughout their entire educational development.  IDEA guarantees that these children do not “fall between the cracks” but rather receive the best possible education that is also meeting the particular needs of the child.  The overall goal of education is, and should be, to allow all individuals to become the best possible individualized person that he or she can be.  IDEA recognizes special needs children as distinct individuals with various needs and ensures that the particular educational needs of every child are geared towards ensuring his or her success as an individual.

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