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What is the IDEA?

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

What is the IDEA?

Our student population consists of many amazing children who live with varying degrees of learning difficulties. Recently, a number of parents have asked, “What is the I-D-E-A?” We generally explain that the IDEA is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is a federal law that requires schools to provide for the educational needs of students with disabilities. As this law has a long history and can be of crucial importance for children with learning struggles, we thought a longer answer might be helpful.

Prior to 1975

Prior to 1975, schools did not have to provide services to students with disabilities. They could choose to provide assistance, but there wasn’t a mandate in place to aid students in need. In fact, according to the archives of US Office of Special Education Programs, in 1970 only 20% of students with disabilities were educated in public schools. Moreover, many states had laws excluding children with disabilities. Therefore, many families found it difficult to obtain support.

The History of the IDEA

In 1975 amid growing awareness that many children were not given adequate access to an education, Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA or Public Law 94-142). Essentially, the law required all federally funded schools to provide equal educational access for children with disabilities.

The law met four goals as listed on wikipedia.org:

  1. Ensure that special education services are available to children who need them
  2. Guarantee that decisions about services to disabled students are fair and appropriate
  3. Establish specific management and auditing requirements for special education
  4. Provide federal funds to help the states educate disabled students

In 1990, the EHA was replaced by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The intent behind the law has not changed, although the concentration shifted to the individual as opposed to the learning struggle of the student. The law continues to protect the rights of the child while giving parents a voice. The law has been amended several times since 1990.

Who is Covered Under the IDEA?

Not every child with a learning struggle qualifies under the IDEA. Students must fall within certain categories. There are 13 conditions covered under the IDEA. Those conditions are: autism, deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, other health impairments (including ADHD), speech or language impairment, visual impairment (including blindness) and specific learning disability which can include dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia.

Additionally, each student must also meet a second requirement. He/she must need assistance as a result of his/her disability to make progress in school.

What to Do If You Suspect a Learning struggle?

Should you suspect a learning struggle, contact your child’s teacher or school to begin a dialogue. A conversation is the first step in determining whether or not to seek help. If indeed it is determined that there is a learning struggle that qualifies for assistance, you should be able to request and help establish an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for your child.

For more information on the IDEA, please visit: http://idea.ed.gov/explore .

Information found in this blog was obtained from www.understood.org, www.wikipedia.org and www.idea.ed.gov.


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