What is the Individuals with Disabilities
Public Law 105-17, the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA), is the federal special education
law. IDEA was signed into law in June 1997, with final federal regulations
published in March 1999. This law replaces all earlier versions
of Public Law 94-142, the Education of All Handicapped Children
Act of 1975.
IDEA guarantees to each child with a disability and in need of
special education services, the right to a free appropriate public
education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate.
IDEA includes four main parts:
- Part A - General provisions, including definitions of disabilities
- Part B - Assistance to states for the education of all handicapped
children, including all of the provisions related to identifying
children with disabilities and providing them with a free appropriate
- Part C - Infants and toddlers with disabilities
- Part D - National assistance to improve the education of children
What are the six main principles of IDEA?
The following six main principles of IDEA embody the underlying
spirit and intent of IDEA and provide the framework around which
special education services are designed and provided to students
- Free Appropriate Public Education — IDEA guarantees
that each child with a disability, eligible for special education,
will be entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE).
Free requires that the education of each child with a disability
must be provided at public expense and at no cost to the child’s
parents. The only exception is that incidental fees normally charged
to non-disabled students or their parents as part of the regular
education program may also be charged to students with disabilities
and their parents.
Appropriate means that each child with a disability is entitled
to an education that is “appropriate” for his or her
needs. “Appropriate education” is determined on an
individual basis and may not be the same for each child with a
Public refers to the public school system. Children with disabilities,
regardless of the nature or severity of their disabilities, have
the same right to attend the public schools as their non-disabled
peers. The public school system must educate students with disabilities,
respond to their individual needs, and help them plan for their
Education - IDEA is an education act that guarantees that
eligible children with disabilities will receive a public education
that includes special education and related services as directed
by the child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), based on
the child's individual needs.
- Appropriate Evaluation — IDEA requires that each
child suspected of having a disability receive an appropriate
- In all areas of suspected disability.
- By a team of evaluators knowledgeable and trained in the use
of the tests and other evaluation materials they use.
- Employing a variety of sound evaluation materials and procedures
selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally
- Without subjecting a child to unnecessary tests and assessments.
- Including the gathering of relevant information from a variety
- Based on information that is useful instructionally in planning
for the child’s education.
- An appropriate evaluation provides information to be used to
determine the child’s eligibility for special education
and related services and the educational needs of the child.
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) — In order
to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate
and individualized education, IDEA requires that, after drawing
upon current evaluation information, the IEP team develop a written
document, the IEP, designed to meet the unique educational needs
of each student with disabilities. IDEA contains clear language
- The information which the IEP must contain.
- Who develops the IEP.
- The public agency’s obligation to provide the special
education and related services identified in the IEP.
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) — IDEA guarantees
that a child with a disability will receive a free appropriate
public education in the least restrictive environment (LRE) appropriate.
This principle reflects IDEA’s strong preference for educating
students with disabilities in general education classes with the
access to general education curriculum. Placement in the general
education classroom is the first placement option the IEP team
When considering placement in the general education classroom,
the team is required to explore the range of modifications and
supplementary aids and services that are needed to ensure that
the student can receive a satisfactory education in the general
education classroom. If the IEP team determines that the student
can be appropriately educated in the general education classroom
using modifications/supplementary aids and services, this is the
LRE for that particular student.
However, the IEP team may determine that the student cannot be
educated satisfactorily in the general classroom, even with the
provision of modifications and supplementary aids and services.
The team must then consider other placements outside of the general
classroom in order to provide FAPE for the child. The range of
such placements that each school system is required to have available
is commonly referred to as the “continuum of alternative
placements.” Thus, like all other components of a student's
special education, the LRE must be determined for each student
based upon that child’s individual needs.
- Parent and Student Participation in Decision Making —
This principle reinforces the belief that the education of children
with disabilities is made more effective by strengthening the
role of parents in the special education process. IDEA requires
that parents (and students, as appropriate) participate in each
step of the special education process. Students must be invited
to participate in IEP meetings where transition services are to
be discussed. Parent involvement includes:
- Equal partnership in the decision-making process.
- The right to receive notice.
- The right to give consent for certain activities such as evaluations,
changes in placement; and release of information to others.
- The right to participate in all meetings concerning their child's
- Procedural Safeguards — Procedural safeguards are
a set of activities whose purpose is to ensure that:
- The rights of children with disabilities and their parents are
- All information needed to make decisions about the provision
of a free appropriate public education to the student is provided
to parents of children with disabilities and to the student when
- Procedures (mediation and due process) are in place to resolve
disagreements between parties.
Some procedural safeguards under IDEA include the right of parents
- Inspect and review their child’s educational records.
- Obtain an independent educational evaluation (IEE).
- Be given written prior notice on matters regarding the identification,
evaluation, or educational placement of their child.
- Request mediation and an impartial due process hearing.
- Be given a full explanation of all of the procedural safeguards
under IDEA and State complaint procedures.
- Appeal the initial hearing decision to the State Education Agency
(SEA) if the SEA did not conduct the hearing; (also the right
of the public agency).
- Have child remain in his/her present educational placement,
unless the parent and the public agency agree otherwise, while
administrative or judicial proceedings are pending.
- Bring a civil action in an appropriate State or Federal court
to appeal a final hearing decision; (also the right of the public
- Request reasonable attorney’s fees from a court for actions
or proceedings brought under the IDEA under certain circumstances.
- Give or refuse consent before their child is evaluated or reevaluated.
- Participate in (and in some cases to appeal) discipline decisions
regarding students with disabilities.
Excerpted from the LDA ADVOCACY HANDBOOK: A Parent’s Guide
for Special Education available to LDA members for free downloading in the Members Only section or available for $12.00 from LDA.