Understanding the Individuals with Disabilities Act

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

Effective advocacy begins with a thorough understanding of the applicable laws. In advocating for your challenged child, it is essential you have a firm grasp on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which is our federal special education law.

Over six million children receive special education services through IDEA. This law dictates who qualifies for services, which children should receive services, and what services are required. The more you understand this vital law, the better able you will be to advocate on your child’s behalf.

Stern Law, PLLC has studied special education laws for over 30 years. We recognize the crucial importance of a deep understanding and working knowledge of the law. It is through proper research and preparation that parents can make a real difference in their child’s education and future. For more information, please call (800)462-5772 today.

What is a disability?

Advocating for your disabled child first requires determining whether they qualify for services under IDEA. Having a disability does not automatically qualify a child for additional services under IDEA. Rather, the disability must result in the student needing different or additional services to succeed in school.

IDEA defines a child with a disability as one with an intellectual disability, speech or language impairments, visual impairments, hearing impairments, serious emotional disturbance, autism, traumatic brain injury, orthopedic impairments, or specific learning impairments or health impairments; and who, because of the condition, needs special education related services.

Requesting an Evaluation

Your child will not automatically be tested to determine if he or she qualifies for special education. Rather, an evaluation must be requested, either by the parent, the child’s doctor, or the child’s teacher. It is important to put the request for testing in writing. The school will pay for the tests, but the parent must consent.

What will the evaluation consist of?

Under IDEA, special education testing must be completed within 60 days after the request, although individual states can set a longer timeframe. As Assessment or Evaluation Team will be compiled to determine what tests are necessary. Parents are a vital part of this team. You should provide the team with all records from prior testing completed on your child, as well as relevant medical records.

Evaluations should look at the total child. Tests utilized may include an educational evaluation, adaptive behavior evaluation, psychological evaluation, and social/developmental history.

Steps to take if your child is deemed ineligible

You have the right to be informed of which tests are completed and what the results indicate. If the school determines your child does not qualify as disabled, you have the right to request a re-test. You can ask for an independent evaluation, which is testing completed outside of the school system. Remember to make this request in writing as well. The school system will pay for just one independent test each time you disagree with a test’s outcome, so if multiple tests are necessary, you will have to cover the expense.

If you still disagree with the independent evaluation, you can place a note in your child’s file stating your disagreement and the reasons for it. The note will remain in the file.

Children who do not qualify for services under IDEA might still be eligible for accommodations under Section 504 and the ADA. These laws are discussed more fully on our website.

A free and appropriate education

IDEA mandates that all children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 receive a free and appropriate public education. The term free and appropriate education, often abbreviated by FAPE, is defined as:

  • Free—special education and related services are provided at no cost to parents, except for fees normally charged to everyone else for events, such as school dances or football tickets
  • Appropriate—this word is the hardest to understand in special education process. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school systems need not provide the best education, just an appropriate one. An appropriate education meets state educational requirements. Beyond that, an appropriate education meets the unique needs of the individual child
  • Public Education—the local school system supervises and directs special education and related services and meets the standards of the state educational agency

If your child qualifies for disability, parents and an education team will meet to create an Individualized Education Program that outlines how the child's needs will be met.

Least restrictive environment

IDEA requires that all students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment, or LRE. LRE is defined as the environment most like that of a non-disabled student in which the disabled student can excel. A school must first look to determine whether your child can be educated in a general education classroom with the use of aids and other supplementary services. If this is not a possibility, and the child is placed in a more restrictive setting, the school should ensure the child is integrated to the maximum extent.

Stern Law, PLLC wants all parents of special children to understand their child’s rights and the responsibilities of the public school system. Knowledge empowers parents to effectively advocate on behalf of their special needs children. For more information on educational advocacy, call Stern Law, PLLC today at (800)462-5772.