Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Disability Law – What to know

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a disability law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was originally enacted in 1975. The text of this disability law can be found beginning at 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 1400 and following. Additionally, the Federal Department of Education has created regulations that explain and implement the IDEA. These regulations can be found beginning at Title 34 Code of Federal Regulation (C.F.R.) Part 300. The IDEA was extensively amended in 1997. One of the most important changes to IDEA in 1997 was the strengthening of the role of parents in the decisions concerning their children’s education program. IDEA was recently reauthorized and signed into law on December 3, 2004. The new law will take effect on July 1, 2005. The regulations have not yet been promulgated. Another law that might apply to a child’s education program is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, commonly referred to as “504.” The codification of this law can be found at 29 U.S.C. Section 794. 504 provides that any program receiving Federal financial assistance shall not discriminate against persons with disabilities. The regulations implementing Section 504 can be found at Title 34 C.F.R. Part 104. Section 504 might apply to a child who does not fit into one of the eligibility categories for special education. Further, many states have their own set of laws and regulations concerning special education. In California, these laws can be found at California Education Code Sections 56000 and following. The regulations are located at Title 5, California Code of Regulations Sections 3000 and following. If in any case there is a discrepancy between state and federal law, the federal law will take precedence unless the state law provides greater protections in which case, the state law will apply.

Who might be eligible for special education and related services under IDEA?

The IDEA provides that the following disabilities will qualify a child for special education and related services:

  • Hearing impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Speech and language impairment
  • Orthopedic impairment
  • Mental retardation
  • Serious emotional disability
  • Other health impairments (defined as limited strength, vitality or alertness that is due to a chronic or acute health problem and which adversely affects as child’s education program).
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Autism
  • Traumatic brain injury

What is special education?

The cornerstone of the IDEA is the basic premise that every child is entitled to a “free appropriate public education” (FAPE). In Board of Education v. Rowley, (1982) 459 U.S. 176 at page 203, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a free, appropriate public education is defined as ” …personalized instruction with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit educationally from that instruction. Such instruction and services must be provided at public expense, must meet the State’s educational standards, must approximate the grade levels used in the State’s regular education, and must comport with the child’s IEP….” .

What are related services and what do they include?

Related services are those that a child needs in order to benefit from his/her special education program. The IDEA includes the following as related services:

  • Transportation
  • Speech-language pathology and audiology
  • Psychological services
  • Physical and occupational therapy
  • Recreation, including therapeutic recreation
  • Social work services
  • Orientation and mobility services
  • Counseling services, including rehabilitation counseling
  • Diagnostic/evaluation medical services
  • Assistive technology evaluation and devices

What is the Least Restrictive Environment?

The IDEA emphasizes that students should be educated in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE). This means that students with disabilities should be educated together with students without disabilities whenever possible. This includes children who are in institutions and other care facilities. The IDEA provides that special classes or removal of students from regular education classes should only be considered, “when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” 10 U.S.C. Section 1412 (a)(5)(A).

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