The United States congress enacted the Education of All Handicapped Children Act in 1975 (Public Law 94-142). Prior to this, there was no mandatory special education law. Over the years, this Act has been amended several times and has been renamed. The Act was last revised in November of 2004 and went into effect on July 1, 2005. This Act is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004).
The IDEA 2004 provides federal financial assistance to State and Local Education Agencies to guarantee special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities. The mission is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.
WHO IS PROTECTED
Children ages 3-21 who are determined by a multidisciplinary team to be eligible within one or more of 13 specific categories of disability and who require special education and related services. Categories include autism, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment.
RESPONSIBILITY TO PROVIDE A FREE, APPROPRIATE PUBLIC EDUCATION (FAPE)
A free appropriate public education is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school, that emphasizes special education and related services. Special education means “specially designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of the child with a disability.” Related services are provided if students require them in order to benefit from specially designed instruction. States are required to ensure the provision of “full educational opportunity” to all children with disabilities. The IDEA requires the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) document with specific content and a required number of specific participants at an IEP meeting.
The IDEA requires written notice to parents regarding identification, evaluation, and/or placement. Further, written notice must be made prior to any change in placement.
A comprehensive evaluation of the child must be completed by a multidisciplinary team, and parental consent is required before an initial evaluation. A professional who is fluent in the communication method(s) used by your child should conduct the evaluation. The IDEA requires that the IEP team is to determine if re-evaluations are to be conducted every 3 years. A re-evaluation is not required before a significant change in placement. For evaluation and placement decisions, the IDEA requires that more than one single procedure or information source be used; that information from all sources be documented and carefully considered; that the eligibility decision be made by a group of persons who know about the student, the evaluation data, and placement options; and that the placement decision serves the student in the least restrictive environment. An IEP review meeting is required before any change in placement.
The IDEA delineates specific requirements for local education agencies to provide impartial hearings for parents who disagree with the identification, evaluation, or placement of a child.