IDEA 101

Understanding the law that underpins special education

IEPs are so much more than goals and PLOPs/PLAAFPs! The pages below cover the key elements of special education paperwork. That paperwork, however, comes from IDEA-- a federal law that we discuss more below!

All about IDEA

IDEA is the federal law that regulates special education in EVERY state! No matter where you live in the US, IDEA is what dictates the paperwork side of special education! If you have questions on IEPs in particular, check out the IEP and 504 page!

IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is a federal law, first passed by Congress in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and most recently reauthorized in 2014. The department of education describes that act as what “makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.”

While almost every other part of education from the funding of schools to how students are taught is local, special education is federally regulated. That means that no matter where a student is the United States or where they move, they are entitled to the same legal protections and access to the same supports and related services. The order of items on an IEP might change district to district or state to state but the content does not– the parts of an IEP found in Connecticut are the same as found on an IEP in Alaska!

Everything that you think about in special education, from IEP goals to test accommodations to related services to the timeline for testing is covered in IDEA! 

Here are a few key things covered in IDEA:

This is the short list of what is covered! Basically, everything that you probably think about when you think about special education is in IDEA!

K-12 special education is only one small part of IDEA! From birth to age 2, students can receive services under IDEA part C. From ages 3 to 21 (or until the receipt of a high school diploma), students can receive services under IDEA part B. IDEA covers children with disabilities from birth all the way until 21!

Note that services look different at each of these time points! For example, a 19 year old receiving services might be attending “school” at a house in the community where she meets with teachers and peers and works on life skills or at a job site. A one year old might have a teacher who comes into his home and works with his parents on meeting his unique needs. All three of those educational interactions, however, are covered by IDEA.

In order to qualify for services, the team must find that: 1) the child has a disability, aka meets the criteria for one of the 12 handicapping conditions under IDEA; and 2) because of that disability needs special education

Here is the exact language of the law, with the list of all 12 handicapping conditions:

(1) Child with a disability means a child evaluated in accordance with §§300.304 through 300.311 as having an intellectual disability, a hearing impairment (including deafness), a speech or language impairment, a visual impairment (including blindness), a serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this part as “emotional disturbance”), an orthopedic impairment, autism, traumatic brain injury, an other health impairment, a specific learning disability, deaf-blindness, or multiple disabilities, and who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services.

(2) (i) Subject to paragraph (a)(2)(ii) of this section, if it is determined, through an appropriate evaluation under §§300.304 through 300.311, that a child has one of the disabilities identified in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, but only needs a related service and not special education, the child is not a child with a disability under this part.”