July 24, 2019 Special Needs

Everything You Wanted to Know About The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

And Its Most Recent Amendment Through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015.

By: Karl W. Topor

Often a client may be confronted with obtaining special education services for their child.   It is extremely helpful to understand The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.  

The IDEA authorizes formula grants to states and discretionary grants to state educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and other nonprofit organizations for students with disabilities who require special education.  

Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 2004 and most recently amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015.   The Secretary of Education amended the regulations implementing Parts B and C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  These conforming changes were needed to implement statutory amendments made to the IDEA by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), enacted on December 10, 2015.  These regulations remove and revise IDEA definitions based on changes made to the definitions in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the ESSA, and also update several State eligibility requirements to reflect amendments to the IDEA made by the ESSA.  They also update relevant cross-references in the IDEA regulations to sections of the ESEA to reflect changes made by the ESSA.  (Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education. 82 FR 29755)

In the law, Congress states:

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right 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 individuals with disabilities.

The IDEA lays out the rules, regulations and safeguards under the law that apply to children receiving special education services.  Under the IDEA, all children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least-Restrictive Environment (LRE). Some students are also entitled to Early Intervention (EI) and an Extended School Year (ESY). It is a federal entitlement requiring public schools to assure that each child with a disability who is eligible for special education receives a free appropriate public education. 20 U.S.C. § 1400.

The stated purpose of the IDEA 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;
  • to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected;
  • to assist States, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies to provide for the education of all children with disabilities;
  • to 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;
  • to 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, and support; and technology development and media services;
  • to assess, and ensure the effectiveness of, efforts to educate children with disabilities.

The IDEA statute includes four parts:

  1. Part A.  Lays out the General Provisions/ Foundation for Act
  2. Part B. Assistance for All Children with Disabilities/ Educational Guidelines for school children age 3-21.
  3. Part C. Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities/Guidelines re: funding and Services for children from birth through 3 years
  4. Part D. National Activities to Improve Education of Children with Disabilities

 

Part A. General Provisions

Part A outlines IDEA’s general provisions, including the purpose of IDEA and the definitions used throughout the statute.

Part B. Assistance for All Children with Disabilities

Part B includes provisions related to formula grants that assist states in providing a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities ages 3 through 21.

Section 1411 deals with the Authorization; allotment; use of funds; authorization of appropriations.  Under such Section, the Secretary shall make grants to States, outlying areas, and freely associated States, and provide funds to the Secretary of the Interior, to assist them to provide special education and related services to children with disabilities in accordance with this subchapter.

A student is eligible for special education if he or she has a disability as defined under the IDEA "by reason thereof needs special education and related services." 20 U.S.C. § 1401.  Some disabled students who do not qualify for special education may still receive services and/or accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1972. 29 U.S.C. § 794.

An eligible child's core entitlement under the IDEA is to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). 20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A).  FAPE is defined as "special education" and "related services" provided at public expense and under public supervision at no charge to the parent. 20 U.S.C. § 1401.

To receive funding, school districts must comply with 6 main principles set out by IDEA: 1) Every child with a disability is entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).  2) Children are entitled to an evaluation in all areas related to the suspected disability.  3) An Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be developed.  4) Educational services must be provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE).  5) Input of the child and their parents must be considered in the education process.  6) Parents have the right under IDEA to question their child's program plan (due process).  

Part C. Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities

Part C includes provisions related to formula grants that assist states in providing early intervention services for infants and toddlers birth to three years old and their families.   Part C mainly deals with Early Intervention services.   A child who is at risk for delays in maintaining basic developmental skills is covered.

Under §1431, Congress finds that there is an urgent and substantial need—

(1) to enhance the development of infants and toddlers with disabilities, to minimize their potential for developmental delay, and to recognize the significant brain development that occurs during a child's first 3 years of life;

(2) to reduce the educational costs to our society, including our Nation's schools, by minimizing the need for special education and related services after infants and toddlers with disabilities reach school age;

(3) to maximize the potential for individuals with disabilities to live independently in society;

(4) to enhance the capacity of families to meet the special needs of their infants and toddlers with disabilities; and

(5) to enhance the capacity of State and local agencies and service providers to identify, evaluate, and meet the needs of all children, particularly minority, low-income, inner city, and rural children, and infants and toddlers in foster care.

It is important to note that Part C is a discretionary program.  Federal funds appropriated to each state are based on the number of children who fall within the birth to three years population that are classified with disabilities and/or the need for Early Intervention under IDEA. A state has some flexibility on how it runs its programs. Certain services do not have to be free.

Part D. National Activities to Improve Education of Children with Disabilities

Part D includes provisions related to discretionary grants to support state personnel development, technical assistance and dissemination, technology, and parent-training and information centers.

Some parting thoughts:

  • The IDEA authorizes formula grants to states and discretionary grants to state educational agencies, institutions of higher education, and other nonprofit organizations for students with disabilities who require special education. 
  • To qualify under IDEA, a child must have a disability and need special education because of it.
  • To receive funding, school districts must comply with the 6 main principles set out by IDEA.
  • IDEA allows input and direction in a child’s education.

Karl W. Topor

Chair, Special Needs Families