The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and How It Affects Special Education

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Before the 1970s, many youth with disabilities were excluded from the U.S. public school system and labeled “mentally retarded.” The only learning options available to most disabled children were at-home tutoring or state institutions. Luckily, special education advocacy groups began forming during President John F. Kennedy’s term. The federal government eventually passed milestone legislation in 1975 to end the inequality. The law was initially called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), but it was later amended as the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the IDEA Act has vastly improved the access to free public schooling for exceptional students.

Conditions Required Under IDEA Act

Congress passed the IDEA Act with the goal of ensuring the civil liberties of children diagnosed with disabilities. The legislation guarantees that disabled students will have access to Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) like every other child. All U.S. states who accept funding for education must provide special education services to qualifying children. The IDEA Act mandates that schools adapt instructional curricula to meet the individual needs of each student with a disability. IDEA protects children from infancy through high school graduation or age 21. To qualify for special education, students must have one of these 13 kinds of disabilities.

• Autism spectrum disorder, including Asperger’s syndrome
• Deaf-blindness
• Specific learning disability (i.e. dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder)
• Deafness
• Hearing impairment
• Emotional disturbance (i.e. anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and OCD)
• Speech or language impairment
• Blindness or visual defect
• Orthopedic impairment (i.e. cerebral palsy, spina bifida, and amputation)
• Traumatic brain injury
• Intellectual disability (i.e. Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, and FASD)
• Other health impairment (i.e. ADHD, epilepsy, hemophilia, and leukemia)
• Multiple disabilities

Simply having the above conditions doesn’t necessarily qualify children though. The student’s academic performance must be “adversely affected” by the disability. Needing special education services to make adequate learning process is necessary. Once children are IDEA-eligible, schools must form an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The federal law ensures that curriculum is tailored to appease the unique needs of every disabled learner with IEPs. This document will outline the child’s condition, strengths and weaknesses, and education goals. Many people, including special education teachers, school psychologists, and therapists, create the actionable success plan together. The IDEA Act requires IEPs to articulate how progress will be measured.

Another major component of the Individual With Disabilities Education Act gives power to the child’s parents. The legislation protects the parents’ rights to give input on their student’s educational decisions. Schools must receive written consent from parents before establishing IEP changes. Parents who suspect a disability in their child can legally request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE). Informed consent is necessary to make certain children are served in the least restrictive environment possible. The IDEA Act also has a “Stay Put” clause that allows parents to veto prospective changes to their child’s special education placement. Unhappy parents can file for due process hearings and be reimbursed for attorney fees.

Impact of the IDEA Act on Special Education

Provisions made with the IDEA Act have positively changed the delivery of special education services nationwide. In the 2013-14 academic year, there were 6.5 million students with disabilities served under IDEA. Specific learning disability, speech or language impairment, other health impairment, and autism were the most prevalent. Disabled youth represent 13 percent of today’s public school enrollments. Ninety five percent of students with disabilities are educated in local public schools. If the IDEA Act wasn’t enacted, the majority of these children may still have been barred. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act allows students with disabilities to receive high-quality interventions that maximize their learning potential.

Access to special education services has vastly improved academic achievement for exceptional children. The U.S. Department of Education reported that average scaled reading scores for students with disabilities increased by 20 points from 2000 to 2009. After the IDEA Act, greater disability awareness brought early intervention to the forefront. Children ages 3-5 who are receiving special education services grew by nearly 24 percent from 1995 to 2007. P art C of the IDEA Act guarantees that at-risk preschoolers receive Early Intervention at no cost. Working with qualified teachers in “natural environments” helps young children with disabilities to better prepare for kindergarten. Early intervention may also address anomalies to lower disability impact later.

Although their graduation rates lag behind their peers, disabled youth have a fighting chance to finish high school curriculum and prepare for college. Data from 2013 showed that 62 percent of seniors with disabilities earned a regular diploma. Dropout rates are lowering and more youth are graduating by their 21st birthday. As a result, the IDEA Act has helped disabled young adults open doors to post-secondary education. The rate at which graduates with disabilities enrolled in colleges rose to 31.9 percent in 2005. For students forgoing college, the IDEA Act also assists with job skills training. High schools are required to plan for transitions into adulthood within each student’s IEP.

Steps for Getting Services Under IDEA

Before children can receive special education services, they must undergo certain evaluations. Parents or school personnel (with parental consent) can request the assessments. The local school district may conduct diagnostic play sessions, speech-language testing, behavior analysis, or developmental evaluation. If indicators of disability exist, eligibility will be decided. Within 30 calendar days of approval, the school must form an IEP for the child. An IEP meeting will then be scheduled for the parents and staff. Once the IEP modifications and accommodations are finalized, special education services are provided. Thanks to the Individual With Disabilities Education Act, the child now has the opportunity to progress to their fullest potential.

What Determines if a Child has Special Education Needs?

Just as a parent is typically the first to recognize when their child is in need of special attention, when it comes to education, the parent plays one of the most important roles in determining if the child should be eligible for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Nothing can begin in addressing the special needs of a child without the input of a teacher, physician and parent/s initiating the IEP. This involves a parent requesting that the school evaluate their child. The school must have a parent’s written consent to perform this evaluation as it also sets the 60-day timer or the state’s time-frame constraint.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that guarantees a child’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, within the least restrictive environment, or LRE. What all of that simply means is that funding and protections exist for children of special needs to guarantee an education for children with disabilities age 3 through 21.

Congress amended IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in 2015. During the 2018-19 school year, more than 64% of children with disabilities are in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the school day, according to IDEA.

What Defines a Child with a Disability

IDEA identifies a “child with a disability” as having intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to as “emotional disturbance”), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments or specific learning disabilities.

The Evaluation Process

In addressing special needs, the child may certainly be able to articulate some level of struggling, but the effort put to discovering the subtle and sophisticated symptoms needs to follow a thorough protocol. These can best be identified through a series of tests, not just a single test. This includes taking a closer look at the child’s overall health, covering vision and hearing as well as general intelligence and performance within the school environment.

Observing how the child communicates within the social environment gives an opportunity to evaluate emotional well-being and the child’s use of his or her body in this process. Determining a child’s disability must be a full and comprehensive process in order to be fair to the individual needs of the child. This includes the parent’s right to appeal the school system’s finding a child is “not eligible.”

Parents must receive this finding in writing along with information regarding how to appeal and the various mechanisms available through which to resolve disagreements, including mediation. In addition, each state’s Parent Training and Information (PTI) center is one of the many resources available to help parents learn what next steps to take. Similarly, a parent may decline services that have been approved at any time.

Suffice it to say, a parent has the right to change their mind about whether their child receives special education and related services. Reestablishing services is possible and may include another evaluation, again, in fairness to ensuring the child is receiving what is needed for them individually.

The Evaluation Team

It is important to have the right input both in evaluating the child and developing his or her IEP. Number one in this effort are the child’s parents. In addition, there must be at least one teacher from the regular education curriculum and one special education teacher. Also on the team is a special education supervisor from the school system familiar with the regular education environment who brings knowledge of the available school resources. There must also be someone capable of interpreting the results of the evaluation and communicating those results to the rest of the team.

When it is appropriate, the child may be able to contribute. Parents may invite other knowledgeable individuals or those of special expertise, a relative or a child care provider. The school can contribute specialists of their own, such as a physical or speech therapist. The school may also invite any other agency representatives that may be responsible for either paying for or providing services and only with the parent’s consent.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Once it has been determined a child is eligible for special education and related services, a meeting to develop an IEP must be held within 30 days. IDEA 2004 clearly allows for parents to contribute as equal partners on the team both in writing and implementing their child’s IEP. This plan will include the child’s present levels of academic and functional performance and in what ways the child’s disability affects this performance. Goals will be established for the upcoming year and what the team agrees upon that the child can reasonably be expected to accomplish. These goals are intended to accommodate the child’s disability while still being able to progress in the general education curriculum including the subjects of math, science, reading, social studies and physical education, among others.

Additional Student Support

The IEP must also include the provision of supplementary aids and services such as a one-on-one tutor, preferential seating or devices that aid in communication. Accessibility makes it easier for a child with a disability to better take part in school activities. The IEP also details any changes to school programs or the school personnel support that will be provided. Further, the IEP must also explain how much of the school day will have the child educated separately from other children without disabilities and whether this interaction includes extracurricular activities such as lunch time or clubs.

Reevaluation of the child’s needs are performed at least once every three years or as determined by the IEP team when there is a need for additional data. Again, there is a time clock started on this reevaluation 90 days from the IEP team meeting. It is helpful to know that IDEA 2004 provisions also apply to private or religious elementary or secondary schools in which the child is placed.