What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or the IDEA, is a federal law that sets out how public schools must treat and educate children with disabilities. All children who are eligible under the IDEA have a right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible. 
One of the most important aspects of the IDEA is the “Child Find” provision. Under the IDEA, it is the school’s responsibility to identify and evaluate all children with disabilities, whether they are currently receiving special education services or not. Therefore, a school must screen all children in order to make sure that they do not have disabilities that necessitate tutoring, special classes, or other types of accommodations. 
The IDEA also requires that public schools develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each disabled child. A team of people who are knowledgeable about a child and his or her needs, such as teachers, counselors, parents, aides, etc., works together to develop an IEP for each child. The team has to follow certain rules, procedures, and timelines in developing an IEP for a child, and the team has to review and revise, if appropriate, a child’s IEP at least once a year. The IDEA also contains certain rules about how and when a child’s IEP can or must be discussed and/or modified, and how a child’s IEP is affected when he or she moves to a new state.
An IEP must contain a concrete plan for meeting clearly stated educational goals for the child, as well as a system for periodically evaluating the child’s progress toward those stated goals. Plus, an IEP must specifically state how the school will help the child to reach those goals; for example, in the case of a child with a learning disability related to reading, an IEP might state that a child will receive remedial reading instruction three times per week with a qualified special education teacher, or, in the case of a child with more serious disabilities, an IEP might provide for placement at a special educational institution outside the public school system. An IEP also must address what accommodations or alternatives, if any, the school must make available for the child in terms of state and federal assessment testing. Furthermore, once a child reaches a certain age, his or her IEP must provide transition services, which are designed to address how the school will prepare the child for his or her life following school, such as by providing the child with job training or teaching independent living skills. 
Once an IEP is proposed, the child’s parents or guardians have a right to accept or reject the proposed IEP. If the parents disagree with the IEP and are unable to work with the school in order to reach a satisfactory IEP, then the parents have a right to ask for a due process hearing and a review from their state’s educational agency, according to their state’s laws. If the parents are still dissatisfied by the outcome of the hearing and review, the parents can further appeal the decision to state or federal court.  

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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