The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities.
It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to the age of 21. It was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, but most people still refer to it as IDEA.
The IDEA is considered to be a civil rights law. However, states are not required to participate. As an incentive and to assist states in complying with its requirements, IDEA makes funds available to states that adopt at least the minimum policies and procedures specified in the IDEA regarding the education of children with disabilities. Since its inception, all states have chosen to participate.
According to IDEA, each student with a disability must be provided a Free, Appropriate Public Education (FRAP). This means that your child is entitled to an appropriate education that’s designed specifically for your child’s special needs.
Your child is entitled to the Least Restrictive Environment. Unlike previous years when all children with disabilities were taught in a separate classroom, the least restrictive environment means your child should be in an environment where she has the greatest opportunity to interact with children who do not have a disability. It also means your child should participate in the general education curriculum.
When appropriate, a child with a disability should be mainstreamed to take classes with other public school students without disabilities. Special accommodations like a classroom aide specifically for your child are often used to enable a child with a disability to attend a regular class.
Simply put, the LRE is the environment most like that of typical children in which the child with a disability can succeed academically. Depending on your child’s abilities, he could be placed in one of the following settings:
- A regular classroom
- A regular classroom with modifications and/or supplemental aids and services
- A resource room for special education instruction with instruction in a regular classroom
- A classroom for children with disabilities located in a regular school
- Day or residential special schools, where many or all students may have disabilities
- A home, hospital, or institution-based program
Creating an Individualized Educational Plan or Section 504 Plan
An individualized educational plan or Section 504 plan means one that is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one individual child. The IEP should describe how your child learns, how he/she best demonstrates that learning, and what teachers and service providers will do to help your child learn more effectively.
Under no circumstances should an IEP be written “to fit” a particular placement. Services for each student must be individually considered and recommended and should not depend on known or existing services. Each IEP must be designed to meet the specific needs of one student and must be a truly individualized document.