Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - Definition & Meaning

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law in the United States that governs the education of children with disabilities. IDEA ensures that eligible students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) tailored to their individual needs and that their rights and the rights of their parents are protected.

Key points about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) include:

  • Eligible Disabilities: IDEA covers a wide range of disabilities, including but not limited to learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, autism, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbances, and physical disabilities.
  • FAPE: IDEA mandates that eligible students receive a FAPE, which means that the educational services provided to them must be designed to meet their unique educational needs and enable them to make progress in the general education curriculum.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): Each eligible student with disabilities must have an IEP, a written document that outlines the student's educational goals, the services and supports they will receive, and how progress will be monitored.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): IDEA requires that students with disabilities be educated to the maximum extent possible with their typically developing peers. The principle of LRE promotes inclusion in general education classrooms whenever appropriate.
  • Parental Rights: IDEA provides parents with specific rights, including the right to participate in the development of their child's IEP, the right to receive prior written notice of proposed changes to the IEP, and the right to dispute decisions through due process procedures.
  • Early Intervention: IDEA includes provisions for early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families to support developmental needs.
  • Part B and Part C: IDEA is divided into two parts: Part B covers special education and related services for students aged 3 to 21, while Part C addresses early intervention services for infants and toddlers.
  • Federal Funding: IDEA provides federal funding to assist states in meeting the educational needs of students with disabilities, with the federal government funding a portion of the costs associated with special education services.
  • Reauthorizations: IDEA has been reauthorized several times, with the most recent reauthorization being the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004).
IDEA plays a critical role in ensuring that students with disabilities have access to quality education and support services that enable them to reach their full potential. It places a strong emphasis on individualization and collaboration among educators, parents, and service providers to meet the unique needs of each student with a disability.

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