The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law in the United States that ensures services to children with disabilities throughout the country. It guarantees that states and public authorities provide early intervention, special education and related services to children with disabilities. In 2006, more than 6.5 million infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities were protected by the legislation.
The United States Congress created IDEA in 1975 to ensure that children with disabilities were given the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just like other children. The law initially appeared under the name of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and gave access to public education for more than one million children.
Before 1975, public schools educated only one out of five children with disabilities. These included children who were blind, deaf, labeled emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded. In many states, they were excluded from public education. The law has been revised often since 1974. Congress approved amendments in December 2004, with final regulations published in August 2006. The No Child Left Behind Act and the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act are related pieces of legislation.
IDEA 2004 is divided into four parts:
- Part A refers to general provisions, which includes the findings of Congress, the purposes of IDEA and key definitions;
- Part B provides for assistance for education of all children with disabilities, which includes what school systems and states have to do to identify children with disabilities and educate them. It includes also parent and student rights;
- Part C is about infants and toddlers with disabilities, explaining how states are obliged to intervene early and provide services to babies and toddlers with disabilities or developmental delays;
- Part D covers national activities to improve education of children with disabilities, providing for parent information, teacher training programs and training centers.
The IDEA regulations add a new authority for school personnel to consider in the case of ‘unique circumstances.' This expands on the guidelines giving the authority to remove a child under special circumstances, such as those relating to serious bodily injury. Moreover, the regulations retain authority for long-term removals for behavior that is not regarded as a manifestation of the disability.
IDEA clarifies when services are required during disciplinary removals, the provision of such services and who makes the determination regarding services and interim alternative educational settings. It retains and revises the standard for a public agency's basis of knowledge for children not determined eligible for special education, as well as addressing the child's placement pending a disciplinary hearing decision.
When a child is identified by a system known as Child Find, which operates in each state, as possibly having a disability and as needing special education, the permission of parents to evaluate the child is required. The initiative may start from parents themselves who can call the Child Find office and ask for evaluation of their child. A teacher can also request that a particular child be assessed to determine if there is a disability. The evaluation will have to answer to several main questions such as whether the child has a disability that needs special education and related services; what the child's specific educational needs are and what kind of special education services are appropriate for addressing those needs.
A group of qualified professionals and the parents decide if the child has a disability, as defined by IDEA. If the parents disagree with the professionals, they have the right to challenge the decision. If the child is found to be a child with a disability, he or she becomes eligible for special education. Within 30 calendar days after that, a team of education specialists and the parents will prepare an individualized education programs (IEP) for the child. Following on from this, an IEP meeting is scheduled and everyone involves meets to discuss the child.
The school is responsible for the child's IEP being carried out as it is written and each of the child's teachers has access to the program. These educators have knowledge about their specific responsibilities under the IEP. The child's progress toward annual goals is measured and the parents are informed. The IEP team will review the child's personal program at least once a year, or more often in case the parents or school demand it.