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
• Specific learning disability (i.e. dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorder)
• 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.