The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

What is the IDEA?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal statute which is the main source of federal aid to children with disabilities in the United States. At its core IDEA requires that any state that receives federal funds is required to provide “free appropriate public education” (FAPE) to every child with a disability in the “least restrictive environment.”

States must provide free education to school age children* with disabilities which:

  1. Is provided at public expense, without charge to the individual with disability or family;
  2. Meets the state education standards;
  3. Includes appropriate preschool, elementary school, and secondary school; and
  4. Follows an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that is specifically designed for the disabled child.

*note that IDEA part C provides for services of children birth to 3 years old with developmental delays. This overview only covers school age children under IDEA.

Who may receive services under IDEA?

A child with a disability is defined under IDEA as a child:

(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (hereinafter referred to as ‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.”

The key term in the IDEA definition is “who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.” If your child does not fall under one of the specific disabilities listed but falls under the broad category of “other health impairments,” by showing that by reason of the impairment the child needs special education services the child will qualify for services under IDEA.

What rights do parents have under IDEA?

Subpart E of IDEA called Procedural Safeguards is designed to provide protections for parents and provide procedure and mechanisms to resolve disputes including but not limited to the right to:

  • A complete explanation of the procedural safeguards available under IDEA;
  • Review and inspect educational records of the child;
  • Obtain an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) of their child;
  • Receive prior written notice on matters which relate to placement, evaluation, and identification of their child;
  • Participate in meetings related to providing FAPE to their child;
  • Appeal decisions and use IDEA dispute resolving mechanisms when they disagree with the district’s determinations or implementation of the child’s IEP.


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Joseph W Montgomery, II

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