The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997 is the latest reauthorization of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This federal legislation provides the structure and funding for the provision of special education and related services to over 6.2 million children with identified educational disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 years. Educational disabilities include autism, behavior disorder, deaf-blindness, developmental delay, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, specific learning disability, speech/ language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment.
The provision of special education services begins with the prereferral process by which any child suspected of having a disability is assisted through interventions in the regular classroom in order to be successful in that setting. If such classroom-based interventions are unsuccessful or insufficient, the child is individually and comprehensively evaluated, using nondiscriminatory and language-appropriate assessment measures. At the completion of the evaluation, the child’s teacher(s), parent(s), school administrator, special education teacher, school psychologist, and other relevant service providers meet to discuss the evaluation results and determine if the child has an educational disability. If the child has a disability, this group becomes the child’s individualized educational program (IEP) team.
The IEP team members write an IEP that ensures that the child is provided with a free appropriate public education. The team members make decisions about educational and related services needed by the child in an environment that is most like that of nondisabled peers, also known as the least restrictive environment. A range of options exists for the placement of students with disabilities, including the regular classroom with special education support, a special education classroom with small teacher-to-student ratios, and homebound services for children who are unable to be successful in the school setting. Some of the related services available to children with disabilities include occupational therapy, physical therapy, social work, medical assistance, and counseling.
IEP teams meet at least once annually to determine the appropriateness of the child’s written IEP. Every 3 years, the team decides if the child is in need of further assessment for planning purposes. In addition, this team meets anytime a child exhibits behavioral and/or emotional problems that negatively influence academic performance. The team members are required to conduct a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) to examine any patterns in the antecedents and consequences of the child’s behaviors. A manifestation determination may be held at this time to determine whether the child’s inappropriate behavior is a manifestation of his or her disability. Following this assessment, the team will create a behavior intervention plan (BIP) that includes positive behavior supports (PBS) in an effort to assist the child in behaving appropriately. Once a child turns 14 years old, the IEP team must also annually discuss plans for that student to transition from secondary school to higher education or employment settings.
Children and their parents have numerous documented rights related the IDEA. For example, no child can be denied services if he or she has a diagnosed educational disability. Written permission must be obtained from parents prior to conducting an individual evaluation. Parents also have the right to ask for an independent individual evaluation or a mediator if they don’t agree with the evaluation results or any part of the IEP process for their child. It is encouraged and expected that parents are involved as much as possible in the educational planning for their child.
A number of major issues related to IDEA are currently under review. For example, some educators are concerned that children with disabilities cannot be disciplined adequately when they continue to violate school policies. Another issue is related to the criteria by which a specific learning disability is identified. The reauthorization was completed by the fall of 2004.
- Council for Exceptional (1997). Discover IDEA: CD2000. Arlington, VA: Author.
- Hallahan, P., & Kauffman, J. M. (2000). Exceptional learners: Introduction to special education (8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- IDEA Practices, http://www.ideapractices.org
- National Information Center for Children and Youth withDisabilities, http://www.nichcy.org
- S. Department of Education. (1999). Assistance to states for the education of children with disabilities and the early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Federal Register, 64(48), 12405–12454.