The IDEA of Special Education

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitles children with disabilities to a free and appropriate public education. Gone are the days when public school systems can refuse to educate a child because of the child’s cognitive, emotional or physical disabilities. Now, each school district must comply with federal and state laws and regulations to provide special education students with the free appropriate public education to which they are entitled.

Eligibility

In order to be entitled to a free and appropriate education, a student must qualify for special education by having a disability and needing special education services. Students may have a disability that requires accommodations but not special education services. For example, a student with a physical disability may need extra time between classes or a desk that accommodate a wheelchair but the student may not need special education services. The student would then qualify for accommodations pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The local school district must conduct an evaluation in order to determine if a child is eligible for special education. A parent may request an evaluation or a school district may propose an evaluation.  A parent must provide informed consent before an evaluation. Typically, that means that the school district must provide a parent with a list of evaluations that will be conducted and a statement of the parent’s rights in special education.

IEPs

After completing an evaluation, the school district must convene a meeting to discuss the evaluation results and the child’s eligibility for special education. The law provides that the child’s teacher, parent, a person authorized to commit district resources (money) and people qualified to interpret evaluation results be present at the IEP meeting. This group of people is known as the IEP Team in many states. If the child is found ineligible for special education then the parent will be notified of that decision.
If the child is found eligible for special education, then the IEP Team will develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that addresses the special education needs of the student. The IEP includes annual measurable goals that the student should be able to achieve with the help of special education services, a description of the direct special education services, related services and accommodations and a summary of test results among other things.

Disputes

While many IEPs are developed each year that provide students with important and necessary services, there are times when parents and school districts disagree with each other about special education eligibility or the contents of the IEP. Parents who disagree with school districts have several options available to them. Parents may seek mediation or formal due process hearings to resolve conflicts with the school district. If the child already has an agreed upon IEP in place at the time the parent files for mediation or due process then the last agreed upon IEP remains in effect until the dispute is resolved.

There are many legal deadlines and requirements that are designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities. Parents of students with disabilities should carefully review the Parent’s Rights document put out by their state Department of Education and consult with an education attorney as necessary if a dispute should arise that is unable to be resolved with school district personnel.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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