How IDEA Protects You and Your Child
At a Glance
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that requires schools to serve the educational needs of eligible students with disabilities.
- Schools must evaluate students suspected of having disabilities, including learning disabilities.
- Not every child with learning and attention issues qualifies for special education services under IDEA.
If you think your child needs special education services, you have to follow a legal process to make it happen. This process can be confusing. It can involve several laws. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the most important one to understand.
As the nation’s special education law, IDEA provides rights and protections to children with disabilities and to their parents. Learning your rights under IDEA can make it easier for your child to get the help he needs (and is legally entitled to) at school.
The Purpose of IDEA
IDEA has been amended several times since Congress first passed it in 1975. (At that time it was called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.) The essential purpose of IDEA hasn’t changed, though. Its primary goals are:
- To protect the rights of children with disabilities. IDEA ensures students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), just like all other children. Schools are required to provide special education in the least restrictive environment. That means schools must teach students with disabilities in general education classroom whenever possible.
- To give parents a voice in their child’s education. Under IDEA, you have a say in the educational decisions the school makes about your child. At every point of the process, the law gives you specific rights and protections. These are called procedural safeguards.
IDEA covers kids from infancy through high school graduation or age 21 (whichever comes first).
Services Under IDEA: Who’s Eligible
Not every child with learning and attention issues is eligible for special education services under IDEA. First, a child must be found to have one of the 13 kinds of disabilities that IDEA covers. They are:
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment (including ADHD)
- Specific learning disability (including dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia, among others)
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment, including blindness
As of 2012, about 5.8 million school-age children in the United States receive special education services as a result of IDEA. More than 40 percent—roughly 2.3 million—are students identified with a specific learning disability.
Kids with disabilities don’t automatically qualify for special education services, though. In order to be eligible, a student must:
- Have a disability and, as a result of that disability...
- Need special education in order to make progress in school
If, for instance, a student has ADHD but is doing well in school, he might not be covered by IDEA.
“At every point of the process, the law gives you specific rights and protections.”
Kids who aren’t eligible for support under IDEA might still be eligible for support under another law called Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. A 504 plan can provide accommodations to help kids in school.
The First Step to Access Services Under IDEA: An Evaluation
The school should conduct a thorough evaluation if it suspects a child has a disability. The evaluation not only determines if a student has a disability. It also sheds light on what services and support that student might need. Find out how the evaluation process works.
The Next Step: Getting an IEP
If an evaluation shows that a student is eligible for special education, parents work with a school team to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a legal document that spells out a child’s educational goals, disabilities and the services and support that the school will provide.
The Role of Parents
You’re your child most important advocate. IDEA gives you an equal say in decisions about your child’s education. A number of procedural safeguards protect your rights.
Try not to get discouraged if the process seems complex. Little by little, you can learn more about your child’s rights. Consider talking to other parents in our community. Their experience can help guide you. You can also talk to one of our experts live.
Important Safeguards for You and Your Child
Are you trying to get your child help in school? It’s important to know that you and your child have legal rights and protections. The federal special education law, IDEA, offers these protections. These protections are called procedural safeguards.
Procedural safeguards spell out what the school can—and can’t—do when evaluating and providing special education and related services to your child. Here’s a list of 15 important procedural safeguards and what they mean for you and your child.
Safeguard #1: Access to Educational Records
You have the right to see, make copies of and get an explanation of your child’s educational records. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, is one law that protects these rights.
Safeguard #2: Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)
You have the right to get an IEE—an evaluation of your child’s skills and needs by someone who’s not a school employee. The school must consider the results of the IEE. However the school isn’t required to accept the findings. Learn about IEEs.
Safeguard #3: Parent Participation
You have a legal right to participate in meetings about your child’s education—including IEP meetings. Find out more about your role on the IEP team.
Safeguard #4: Prior Written Notice
The school must give you written notice whenever it wants to add, change or deny services to your child. Get more details on how prior written notice works.
Safeguard #5: Procedural Safeguards Notice
The school must provide you with a written explanation of all the procedural safeguards you have under federal and state law.
Safeguard #6: Understandable Language
Language for notice and consent must be understandable to the general public and in your native language (this includes Braille).
Safeguard #7: Confidentiality of Information
The school must protect your child’s confidentiality. This includes personal information, such as your child’s name, address, social security number and other personal details. There are some exceptions, though. FERPA outlines these.
Safeguard #8: Informed Consent (or Parental Consent)
Before conducting an evaluation or providing special education services, the school must inform you of what’s involved. You have to give your permission in writing before the school can move forward. Learn the details of informed consent.
Safeguard #9: “Stay Put” Rights
Do you disagree with a proposed change to your child’s placement? (This can refer to a location or to services outlined in his IEP.) The “stay put” provision allows your child to stay where he is while you and the school go through the dispute resolution process. Find out more about the “stay put” rights.
Safeguard #10: Due Process
If you have a dispute with the school about your child’s special education, you can use what’s called due process. This is a formal way of resolving disagreements between parents and schools.
You have to file a written complaint to begin this process. The complaint can involve any aspect of how the school is handling your child’s education, if you believe the school’s action violates IDEA.
Within 15 days of a parent filing a due process complaint, the school must hold a meeting, called a resolution session, to work on resolving the disagreement.
After the resolution session, you attend a due process hearing. The hearing is like a courtroom trial. You and the school will present arguments and evidence to an administrative law judge or (impartial) hearing officer.
Learn more about your rights under due process.
Safeguard #11: Civil Action
If you’re unhappy with the results of the due process hearing, you can file a civil lawsuit.
Safeguard #12: Mediation
Mediation is an alternative to a due process hearing. A mediator (neutral third party) helps you and the school try to resolve a dispute.
Safeguard #13: Reimbursement of Attorneys Fees
A judge or hearing officer can order a school to pay for attorney fees if you win a due process hearing or civil action.
Safeguard #14: State-Level Appeal
In some states, parents have the right to appeal the result of a due process hearing to the state department of education.
Safeguard #15: State Complaint
You can make a written complaint to an official state agency if a school violates federal or state education law. Sometimes advocates can write these complaints for you. Learn about the difference between an advocate and an attorney and what to include in a state complaint.
If you have a dispute about your child’s IEP, it’s important to understand all of your options for resolving the dispute. Understanding your rights can make it easier for you to advocate for your child.
- If your child qualifies for special education services, you’ll work with a school team to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- An IEP is like a formal contract that outlines how the school will support your child.
- The law gives you an equal say in decisions about your child’s education.
- Whether you’re asking the school to evaluate your child or give special education and related services, there’s a legal process the school must follow.
- If you disagree with a school’s decision, you can ask a mediator to help resolve the dispute.
- In general, the school must protect a child’s confidentiality.