1. What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act in 2004, is a federal law that requires public schools to meet the unique educational needs of students with disabilities.
2. Who qualifies as a child with a disability?
A child with a disability, as defined by the IDEA, is a child who has been diagnosed with at least one of the following:
- Intellectual disabilities
- Hearing impairments (including deafness)
- Speech or language impairments
- Visual impairments (including blindness)
- Emotional disturbance
- Orthopedic impairments
- Traumatic brain injury
- Other health impairments
- Specific learning disabilities
And whose disability is interfering with their education such that the child requires special education and related services.
3. What are special education and related services?
Special education, as defined by the IDEA, is “specially designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.” This means that a school is required to provide an education program for a child with a disability that is uniquely tailored to the needs of the child.
Related services include any other services that a child with a disability may require to help them benefit from their special education. Related services, as listed in the IDEA, include: transportation, developmental services, corrective services, and supportive services (such as speech-language pathology and audiology services, interpreting services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, social work services, school nurse services, counseling services, and medical services).
4. How is a child with a disability identified?
Under the “child find” policy included in the IDEA, school districts are legally obligated to seek out and identify children with disabilities. If a school district suspects that a child may have a disability, they must provide free testing for that student after receiving informed consent from the student’s parent. Unfortunately, many children with disabilities are missed and are never identified by the school district. In such cases, parents can also request that their child be tested if they believe that their child may have a disability that is interfering with the child’s education.
After a child is identified as requiring testing, or after a parent suggests a child for testing, the school district has 30 days to receive signed “informed consent” from the parent of the child. If, in the case that the school district has suggested testing of a child, the parent refuses to consent, the school district can decide to either not move forward with testing or to file a due process complaint to request to move forward with testing and override the objection of the parent. If, in the case that the parent has requested testing of their child, the school district does not want to test the child, they can file a due process complaint. Parents may also file a due process complaint if they disagree with the school district’s decision to test or to refuse testing for a child.
After receiving informed consent for testing from a parent, the school district has 60 days to complete the testing of the child and to hold a meeting, called an “eligibility conference,” to discuss whether the child has a disability.
5. What happens after a child is identified as having a disability?
When a child is identified as having a disability, they are ensured a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) under the IDEA. This means that the school district must meet the unique special education and related services needs of the child at no cost to the child or to the child’s family.
The school district is also obligated by the IDEA to educate and provide services to a child with a disability in the “least restrictive environment” (LSE) for the child. This means that the school district should try to continue educating children with disabilities with children who are not disabled — children with disabilities should be integrated as much as possible with children who are not disabled.
Both the FAPE and LSE are provided to a child with a disability through an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
6. What is an Individualized Education Program (IEP)?
An IEP is a written statement, developed by the IEP team, for a child with a disability that details the specific special education and related services requirements for the child. According to the IDEA, the IEP must include:
- A statement of the child’s present academic and functional performance;
- A statement of measurable annual goals for the child;
- A description of how the child’s progress towards meeting annual goals will be measured, and when periodic reports on the progress the child is making will be provided;
- A statement of the special education and related services that the child will receive;
- An explanation of the extent, if any, to which the child will not participate with non-disabled children;
- A statement of any alternative measures or accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments of student achievement;
- The projected date for the beginning of services.
7. Who is included in the IEP team?
According to the IDEA, the IEP team includes:
- The parents of a child with a disability
- Not less than 1 regular education teacher of such child (if the child is or may be participating in the regular education environment)
- Not less than 1 special education teacher, or where appropriate, not less than 1 special education provider of such child
- Representative of a local educational agency who:
- Is qualified to provide, or supervise the provision of, specifically designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities
- Is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum
- Is knowledgeable about availability of resources of the local education agency
- An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation results (this may be a member of the team described above)
- At discretion of the parent or agency, other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate
- Whenever appropriate, the child with a disability
8. What can I do if I disagree with something the school is doing for my child with a disability?
If you are the parent of a child with a disability and, at any point, disagree with something the school is doing, you may file a Due Process Complaint.
You should file a Due Process Complaint if you disagree about:
- Your child’s identification as a special education student
- The school district’s decision to either evaluate or to not evaluate your child for a disability
- The decision by the IEP team to change the educational placement of your child (for example, to move a child with a disability from a classroom with children who are not disabled to a classroom with only other children with disabilities)
- A manifestation hearing finding (the decision by the IEP team regarding whether an incident of behavioral misconduct by the child was related to their disability)
- Whether the school district is providing your child a FAPE.
After a parent files a Due Process Complaint against a school district, the school district must respond within 10 days. Within 15 days of receiving the complaint, the school district must also hold a meeting, called a “resolution session,” with the parents to resolve the complaint. Any agreements reached at this meeting must be made in writing.