Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA defines what "child with a disability" means, and makes provisions within the public school system for such children. It also introduced the concept of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each child with special needs. IDEA is organized into four parts:

  • Part A, General Provisions
  • Part B, Assistance for the Education of All Children with Disabilities (school age/preschool programs)
  • Part C, Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities
  • Part D, National Activities to Improve the Education of Children with Disabilities (support programs)

Through IDEA, persons between the ages of 3 and 21 are provided the following services as part of the public school system:

  • physical therapy,
  • occupational therapy,
  • speech therapy, and
  • school instruction.

The services are related to educational goals and are not meant to meet all medical needs. School age children may attend a regular or special classroom, participate in the appropriate therapy, and conduct learning tailored for their specific educational needs.

The average school day for a non-disabled child is spent primarily in one classroom. Children with disabilities typically receive intervention from therapists, teachers, and aids to assist them at school.

Definition of Child with Disability

The categories of disabilities that qualify children for special education and related services are defined by two legislative actions, Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142) of 1975 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P. L. 101-476).

As defined by IDEA, the term "child with a disability" means a child:

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

The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

IDEA requires all children attending school through the program to have developed and reviewed an Individualized Education Program (IEP). IEP outlines the student's current level of function in physical, cognitive, and social behaviors and provides agreed upon goals to be achieved by the end of each school year.

An IEP is developed in conjunction with the physical therapist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, teacher, and parent, as appropriate for each individual. It now puts more emphasis on a general education curriculum and the involvement of general education teachers in developing the IEP.

The IEP offers each child a program tailored for his/her need and establishes methods of monitoring his/her progress.

Public Law 105-17: Modifications to IDEA

In June 1997, President Clinton signed a bill re-authorizing and amending IDEA. The bill became Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997.

Public Law 105-17 keeps the major provisions of earlier federal laws, including the assurance of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE), and the guarantee of due process procedures.

Public Law 105-17 also modifies the original law. Some of the changes affecting special education are:

  • participation of students with disabilities in state and district-wide testing;
  • enhanced parental participation in eligibility and placement decisions;
  • streamlined student evaluation/reevaluation requirements;
  • identification of transition service needs within a child's course of study beginning at age 14;
  • availability of mediation services to resolve parent-school differences;
  • disciplinary procedures for students with disabilities.

P.L. 105-17 also allows states and local education agencies to apply the term "developmental delay" for children ages 3 through 9. Previously, this definition applied to children ages 3 through 5.

"For children ages 3 through 9, the term 'child with a disability' may, at the discretion of the state and the local education agency, include children who are experiencing developmental delays in one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development..."


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