The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, ensures a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. The IDEA was passed by Congress in 1975, and it went into effect in 1978. Periodically, Congress re-authorizes the law and allocates money to special education and related services for eligible students with disabilities. The most recent congressionally re-authorized IDEA took effect on January 1, 2005. Students are entitled to receive special education under the IDEA if they qualify for certain disabilities and are having problems learning as a result of their disabilities.
The district wants to work with parents to get the best possible education for their children, and we will do everything in our power for this to occur. As it is with life in general, there are realistic resource restrictions to educational programmings, such as staffing and funding. Further, case law stipulates a school district is not required to maximize a child's education. So what is an appropriate education? As defined by the United States Supreme Court, the term appropriate means a school district offers an appropriate education when it provides access to public education that is designed to give "meaningful benefit." To be appropriate, services must be individualized to meet the unique needs of the child. The child's needs are determined according to procedures detailed in the IDEA through the testing and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.
IDEA Disability Categories
Students with these disabilities are eligible for special education and related services under the IDEA:
- Hearing Impairment
- Mental Retardation
- Multiple Disabilities
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Other Health Impairments
- Emotional Disturbance
- Specific Learning Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Visual Impairment
Some children may experience developmental delays in the areas of physical, cognitive, social-emotional, communication, or adaptive development. These children, however, may not meet the standards to qualify for special education under one of the disability categories listed above. The IDEA allows states and local districts the choice of providing special education and related services to children ages 3 through 9 who qualify as developmentally delayed.
Students with disabilities that are not listed above, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), may qualify for special education under specific learning disability, emotional disturbance, or other health impairments. A child may have a health condition that is not included in any of the listed categories but which limits his strength and causes learning problems. Some examples of health conditions that may come under the category of other health impaired are:
- Tourette's Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Heart Condition
Section 504 and the IDEA are separate laws, each with its own emphasis. The IDEA requires a free and appropriate education (FAPE) with prescribed guidelines that must be followed for students to be identified with an approved disability before they can receive services. To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to: (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) be regarded as having such an impairment.
School districts must comply with this law because they receive federal funds. As a result, they must provide the same access and opportunity to children with disabilities as those without disabilities within the context of reasonable accommodations. For more information about Section 504, contact our district 504 coordinator, Brandon Weiss, at 307-548-6553.
The IEP is an important component of the IDEA. Parents must be included as a part of the group that makes educational decisions for their children. This includes participating in meetings to discuss and decide:
- evaluation of your child's disability and eligibility for special education
- IEP goals, objectives, related services such as assistive technology, and other support your child may need
- how to deal with discipline problems and whether your child's discipline is related to his/her disability (manifestation determination)
- educational placement
- transition services
- extended school year services
- progress or lack of progress to meet annual goals.
For students aged 16 through 21, parents and students both have roles in educational planning. Students aged 16 and older must be invited to the IEP meeting to participate in transition planning. If transition planning begins before age 16, the student is still invited to participate. At 17, students must be informed of their rights under the IDEA that may transfer to them at age 18 or the age of majority.
For children who are wards of the court, the school district must appoint surrogate parents to make educational decisions. Sometimes surrogate parents are called educational advocates. A parent, foster parent, court-appointed special advocate (CASA), or other knowledgeable person may be appointed as a surrogate parent or educational advocate. The surrogate parent has all of the legal rights of parents discussed in this Guide.
The child's resident school district is responsible for assuring that the child is receiving an appropriate special education program. The school district has the option to contract with other private and public schools and agencies to provide services to your child. The IEP determines the type of services your child will get and where these services will be provided.
Students with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). The cost of implementing a child's IEP cannot be passed on to parents or guardians. This includes the cost of related services and necessary assistive technology. With parental consent, school districts may bill a third party, such as a family's private health insurance to offset certain costs.
Third-party billing: In order for school districts to bill a family's private insurance, the parents must voluntarily consent to the billing. School districts cannot force parents to consent if the billing would cause financial loss to the parents. Financial loss may include:
- Decrease in available cap or lifetime coverage;
- Increase in insurance premiums;
- Termination of the insurance policy; or
- Payment of expenses such as deductibles.
If parents refuse to allow the school district to file a claim against the family's private insurance, the district is still responsible for providing the student with special education services. The school district cannot require parents to consent as a condition to providing special education services.
Assistive Technology (AT) is equipment, or devices that make it easier for someone who has a disability to maintain or increase functioning in a major life activity (such as learning, working, walking, speaking, etc.). It includes services that help individuals choose and learn to use the devices best suited for them. Some examples are over-sized pens and word processors for writing, augmentative communication devices for speaking, a magnifier and enlarged print materials for reading, and clipboard or velcro attachments for the organization of materials.
If AT is necessary for a child, it will be identified as a special factor and included on the IEP under Specially Designed Instruction, Related Services and/or Program Modifications depending on the use or uses of the AT in the child's education. Like other parts of a child's special education, the district must pay for AT, including the cost of repair, maintenance, and replacement of necessary AT devices and services. The district has an assistive technology plan on file in the special services office for public review.