The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Everything You Need to Know

This is a law that requires equitable education for the mentally and physically disabled. Thus, IDEA gives protection and rights to children with disabilities. This law covers them from birth through high school graduation or 21 years of age (whichever comes first). This law also gives rights to the parents and legal guardians of children with disabilities.

In 1975, IDEA was passed for the first time. Then, it was called the EAHCA (Education for All Handicapped Children Act). Before IDEA, states used to put children with disabilities either in separate schools or in separate classrooms away from their peers. As a result, their education was usually underfunded and poor, which explains why academic expectations from them were low. 

Typically, these children with thinking and learning differences failed to receive the help they required to thrive in school. To change this situation, Congress passed IDEA. Over the years, Congress has updated IDEA several times, the last update being made in 2004. Most recently, Congress amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), in December 2015.

The IDEA oversees how states, along with public agencies, provide early intervention, special education, as well as related services to over 7.5 million (as of the school year 2018-19) eligible toddlers, infants, children, and young adults with disabilities.

For infants and toddlers (from birth to 2 years of age) with disabilities and their families, IDEA Part C has provisions for early intervention services. Under IDEA Part B, children and young adults aged 3 through 21 can get special education and related services. In addition, the IDEA authorizes:

·         Formula grants to states to sustain early intervention services and special education and related services.

·         Optional grants to state’s higher education institutions, educational agencies, and other nonprofit organizations to support demonstrations, research, technical assistance and distribution, personnel preparation and development, technology development, and parent-information and -training centers.

IDEA puts two significant responsibilities on the states and their public schools. Firstly, school districts must provide a FAPE (free appropriate public education) to children with disabilities. Additionally, these children must be allowed to learn side by side with their peers as much as possible in the LRE (least restrictive environment).

Secondly, schools have to engage the parents in their child’s education. At every point in the process, IDEA has procedural safeguards to give parents particular rights and protections. For instance, one safeguard is that a school must get permission from parents before providing services to children.

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