IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is a piece of legislation that ensures that individuals with disabilities receive a free education tailored to their individual needs. Before this act was initiated in 1975, public schools in the United States only accommodated about 1 out of 5 children with disabilities. Many states even had laws excluding children with certain types of disabilities from attending public school. As of 2006, now more than 6 million children in the US receive special education services through IDEA.
IDEA is made up of 6 pillars; Individualized Education Program (IEP), Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), Less Restrictive Environment (LRE), Appropriate Evaluation, Parent-Teacher Participation, & Procedural Safeguards.
- The Individualized Education Program states that a school must design an individual education program to meet the unique needs of each child with a disability. This is the foundation of each student’s educational program. It lays out the services that need to be provided, and how often, while also describing the child’s level of performance and how their disability affects the performance. This is also where any accommodations that need to be made are described. The IEP team, who will create the program for the child, must include at least one of the child’s regular education teachers, a special-ed teacher, and a school psychologist. The children’s parents are considered to have equal influence along with the other members of the IEP team.
- FAPE ensures that special education and the related services will be provided at no charge, under the public school system while still conforming with the guidelines laid out by the IEP.
- The LRE is the environment that most closely mimics a typical classroom, where the child with disabilities can still succeed academically. The removal from a regular educational environment will occur only if the severity of the disability is such that education cannot be achieved satisfactorily.
- IDEA also wants to prevent children from being misidentified as having a disability, so every child goes through an appropriate evaluation process. The goal of this is to get the students who need help, the extra help that is appropriate for them, and that will accomplish the goals set by the IEP team.
- Parents and teachers both need to be on the same page for working with and providing information to the student. Both parties will be active on the IEP team to determine goals, the LRE, and to discuss any other situations unique to the individual. Parents and families should always be informed of any decisions made about their child.
- There are also procedural safeguards in place that guarantees the following rights to parents:
o Access to educational records
o Parent participation
o Prior written notice of any changes in the IEP
o Understandable language – translators may be provided
o Informed consent – parents must agree before any actions are taken
o “Stay put” rights – if parents don’t agree with actions taken by the school the child can remain while the dispute is resolved
o Due process – court like procedure if any disputes occur
o Civil action