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Federal Education Laws: What is IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees that all children, ages 3 through 22 years, receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The Act also offers a way for states to provide Early Intervention services for children with developmental delays or disabilities under 3 years of age.

Database of Services: Relevant keyword(s) may include: Advocacy Services, IDEA Information and/or Training Programs, or Legal Counseling,

Purpose of IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal education act to provide financial assistance to State and local education agencies to guarantee special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities.

IDEA Eligibility

  • A child must be 3 years through 21 years of age.

  • Children under 3 years of age are not eligible for special education services through the school system. However, there are other agencies and programs in the community that provide services for young children with disabilities. Your local school system should know of early intervention programs in the community. Click here to search for early intervention programs in your area.

  • A multidisciplinary team will determine if the child is eligible for special education services or related services if the child is within one or more of 13 specific categories of disabilities.

    What do FAPE & LRE mean?

    Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) (FAPE) refers to special education and related services. FAPE means that students with disabilities have the right to a free public education and to receive services that are appropriate for their individual needs. Special education means "specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parent, to meet the unique educational needs of the child with a disability." Related services are provided to assist your child to benefit from special education. They include, but are not limited to, the following: Transportation, Hearing Services, Vision Services, Counseling Services, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech and/or Language Therapy, and Assistive Technology Services. Click here to search for services in your area.

    Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) means that each child will be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with children who do not have disabilities. Children should be educated in more restrictive (different) environments only when less restrictive alternatives are not appropriate. Students with disabilities have the right to be educated in the same setting as their peers if that is the most appropriate setting for the student. The IEP team determines what the least restrictive environment is for each student.

    What is an IEP?

    Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written plan developed by parents and the school system personnel. This documentation is required by IDEA. The IEP should include:

    • A student's current levels of educational performance.
    • Annual goals, including short-term objectives.
    • Specific special education and related services needed.
    • The extent a student will take part in a general education program.
    • The dates when services are expected to begin and end. Appropriate objective criteria and schedules for determining (at least annually) whether the objectives are achieved.
    • A statement of needed transition services beginning at age 14, and no later than age 16. Click here to search for transition services in your area.
    • A student’s IEP team members can include the student with a disability, the parents, a local education agency representative such as the school’s principal, the child’s special education teacher, a general education teacher, school psychologist, other specialists, an interpreter if needed, and anyone the parent wants to invite to the meeting.

    Evaluation & Placement Procedures

    A comprehensive evaluation is required. A multidisciplinary team evaluates the child. Parental consent is required before an initial evaluation. IDEA requires that reevaluations be done at least every 3 years. A reevaluation is not required before a significant change in placement. For evaluation and placement decisions, IDEA requires that information from all sources be documented and carefully considered before decisions are made.

    Student's Rights

    Student’s Rights Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997, strengthens the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. It builds on the achievements gained under Public Law 94-142, the Education for the Handicapped Act, and Public Law 101-476, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). A basic provision is the right of parents to take part in the process of making decisions about their child's education. Each year at the IEP meeting, your student’s IDEA rights will be explained and you will be given a booklet called Procedural Safeguards. Parents of students with disabilities have the right to:

    • A free appropriate public education for your child.
    • Request an evaluation if you think your child needs special education or related services.
    • Be notified whenever the school wants to evaluate your child or change your child's educational placement, or refuses your request for an evaluation or a change in placement.
    • Informed consent. Informed consent means you understand and agree in writing to the evaluation and educational program decisions for your child. Your consent is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time.
    • Obtain an independent evaluation if you disagree with the school's evaluation.
    • Reevaluation every 3 years. . The school must reevaluate your child at least once every 3 years. Your child's educational program must be reviewed at least once during each calendar year.
    • Have your child tested in the language he or she knows best. For example, if a child's primary language is Spanish, this is the language in which he or she must be tested. Students who are deaf have the right to an interpreter during testing.
    • Review all of your child's school records. You may request copies of these records, but the school may charge you a reasonable fee for making the copies. Only you, as parents, and those directly involved in the education of your child will be able to see personal records. If you feel that some information in your child's record is not correct or misleading or violates the privacy or other rights of your child, you may ask that the information be changed. If the school refuses, you have the right to ask for a hearing in order to challenge the questionable information in your child's records. Or you may file a complaint with your state education agency.
    • Be fully informed by the school of all rights that are provided to you under the law.
    • Take part in developing your child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) if your child is under school age. The school must make every possible effort to notify you of the IEP or IFSP meeting. The school must arrange it at a time and place that is convenient for both you and the school.
    • Take part in all IEP or IFSP team decisions, including placement.
    • Request a meeting. A written request can be made for an IEP or IFSP meeting at any time during the school year.
    • Be kept informed about your child's progress at least as often as parents of children who do not have disabilities.
    • Have your child educated within the Least Restrictive Environment possible. Every effort should be made to develop an educational program that provides your child with the services and supports needed in order to be taught with children who do not have disabilities.
    • Have a due process hearing. You can ask for a voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences with the school that cannot be resolved informally. Be sure you make your request in writing, date your request, and keep a copy.