Legal: What is The IDEA act?

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Firmly entrenched in federal law since 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates free public education opportunities for eligible children with disabilities and promotes family involvement in the educational process. The IDEA Act covers services that include early intervention (from birth through age two) and special education (ages three through 21). With an emphasis on parental advocacy for their children’s well-beings, the IDEA Act empowers parents by putting procedural safeguards in place that facilitate not only the parents’ involvement but also their decision-making capability.

Basic Tenet of IDEA

By upholding the dignity through disability and advocating for the rights of disabled children, Congress notes in the IDEA act that a disability is a natural part of the human experience and doesn't diminish the rights of individuals to participate in, or contribute to, society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for all individuals with disabilities.

Eligible Disabilities Covered Under IDEA

Section 300.8 of IDEA defines “child with a disability” as a child who has been properly evaluated in accordance with Sections 300.304 through 300.311, resulting in a diagnosis of:

  • An intellectual disability.
  • A hearing impairment (including deafness).
  • Speech or language impairments (a communication disorder).
  • A visual impairment (including blindness).
  • A serious emotional disturbance (manifested over a long period of time).
  • An orthopedic impairment (congenital anomalies, conditions of disease and other causes).
  • Autism (affecting verbal and nonverbal communication as well as social interaction).
  • A traumatic brain injury (acquired injury, not as a result of congenital or degenerative conditions).
  • A specific learning disability (certain conditions such as dyslexia, but not other conditions such as cultural disadvantages).
  • Deaf-blindness (a combination of hearing and visual impairment not accommodated by single programs for either deafness or blindness).
  • Multiple disabilities (a combination of disabilities other than deaf-blindness).
  • Other health impairments (chronic or acute health problems including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and sickle cell anemia).

The IDEA Act in 1975

With its beginnings in 1975, IDEA was initially known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act (EHA). It wasn’t until 1990, when amendments to EHA were passed, that its name changed to IDEA. Although its name has not changed since 1990, additional legislation was passed in 1997 and 2004 to fine-tune the details of this law.

Implementation of 1997 IDEA

The IDEA Act of 1997, commonly called IDEA 97, more clearly defined and strengthened the accountability of public schools regarding the academic expectations for children with disabilities. IDEA ’97 attempted to bridge the gap between what was required in public school curricula and what children with disabilities actually learn by placing an emphasis on measurable results from data collection efforts.

Amended IDEA Act of 2004

In 2004, IDEA was tweaked again with amendments that required each state to develop a state performance plan (SPP) and an annual performance report (APR). These amendments carried a measure of accountability at the state level by evaluating each state’s implementation of the requirements and fulfillment of IDEA’s purposes. Each state was also required to report on how it proposed to improve its implementation.

Stated Purpose of IDEA

Mirroring the changes to IDEA through the years since its 1975 inception, its stated purpose has also evolved to its present-day definition, which is to:

  • Ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them, a free, appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.
  • Ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and the parents of such children are protected.
  • Assist states, localities, educational service agencies and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities.
  • Assist states in the implementation of a statewide, comprehensive, coordinated, multidisciplinary, interagency system of early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.
  • Ensure that educators and parents have the necessary tools to improve educational results for children with disabilities by supporting system improvement activities, coordinated research and personnel preparation, coordinated technical assistance, dissemination, technology development and media services.
  • Assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.

IDEA Part A - Terms and Foundation

IDEA is subdivided into four distinct parts: parts A, B, C and D. Part A defines terms and establishes the foundation for Parts B, C and D that follow. Part A also provides for the creation of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), which is responsible for the administration of IDEA as well as providing leadership and financial support for local and state school districts.

IDEA Part B - School-Age Children

Part B of IDEA applies to school-age children who are three to 21 years old. Because IDEA provides funding for local and state school districts, the districts must be in compliance with six IDEA principles to receive funding.

The American Psychological Association (APA) lists IDEA's six principles, which include:

  1. Every child is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  2. When a school professional believes that a student between the ages of three and 21 may have a disability that has substantial impact on the student's learning or behavior, the student is entitled to an evaluation in all areas related to the suspected disability.
  3. The creation of an individualized education plan (IEP). The purpose of the IEP is to lay out a series of specific actions and steps through which educational providers, parents and the student themselves may reach the child's stated goals.
  4. The education and services for children with disabilities must be provided in the least restrictive environment, and if possible, those children be placed in a "typical" education setting with non-disabled students.
  5. The input of the children and their parents must be taken into account in the education process.
  6. When a parent feels that an IEP is inappropriate for their child, or that their child is not receiving needed services, they have the right under IDEA to challenge their child's treatment (due process).

IDEA Part C - Early Intervention Services

Before an infant or toddler reaches the age of three, the child and its family are eligible for early intervention services under IDEA Part C. From birth through age two, the APA lists IDEA Part C guidelines, which include:

  • Every family is entitled to appropriate, timely and multidisciplinary identification and intervention services for their very young child. These services must be made available to all families with infants and toddlers.
  • Families are required to receive an individualized family service plan (IFSP). This plan lays out the priorities, resources and concerns of the family. In addition, it describes the goals of the child, the services to be provided to the child as well as steps for eventual transitioning of the child into formal education.
  • Families have a right to participate in the creation of the IFSP and must give consent prior to the initiation of intervention services.
  • Parents are entitled to the timely resolution of all conflicts or complaints regarding the evaluation or services provided to their child.

IDEA Part D - National Activities and Resources

IDEA Part D includes national activities, such as grants, that are designed to improve or enhance the educational and transitional experience for children with disabilities. Part D also includes resources for supporting the programs, projects and activities that produce positive educational results for children with disabilities.