The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that provides protection for children with disabilities. The act ensures that children with disabilities are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education. The act sets forth a specific process for identifying, evaluating, and accommodating eligible children with disabilities. IDEA holds that schools must evaluate students suspected of having disabilities to determine whether they are eligible for special education services and programs.
Specifically, IDEA states that school districts must:
(1) provide every child with a free appropriate public education; (2) must entitle every child with an evaluation when a potential disability is suspected; (3) create an IEP if services are found necessary, (4) provide services in the least restrictive manner (LRE), (4) must take into account the input of the parents and the children involved, and (5) must have a system to allow parents to challenge a district’s IEP or proposed services.
In order to be eligible for services, the child must: (1) have a disability, and (2) as a result of that disability need special education at school to progress. IDEA specifically covers 13 categories of disabilities:
- Emotional Disturbance
- Hearing Impairment
- Intellectual Disability
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairments
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
Having a disability does not automatically qualify a child for special education services, but it should trigger an evaluation to make that determination.
If you or the school suspects your child may have a disability affecting their school performance, you can request an evaluation. The evaluation by the school district is the first step in the process and will often identify a child’s disability and the services necessary to help the child progress. If you disagree with the evaluation, you may need to plan an evaluation of your child by experts independent of the school district- it is part of your parental rights under the IDEA to do so.
After the evaluations, the next step provided by IDEA is your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). This document will be the culmination of many meetings, evaluations, testing data, and other information to best determine your child’s educational goals, disabilities, and the services your child needs.
Remember that as a parent, IDEA empowers you and provides you with protection. The act mandates that as a parent you have the ability to voice concerns, provide input, request additional evaluations, and if necessary challenge the school’s treatment by a due process hearing.