The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) is a federal law that was passed in 1975 in order to aid the nation’s students with physical and mental disabilities.  The IDEA guarantees students access to special education; it is the nation’s banner special education law.

Finding that “[i]mproving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element . . . of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency,” Congress passed the IDEA “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

A student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the main vehicle by which the school district is obligated to provide a free appropriate public education to a student. The initial IEP is developed after the school district evaluates the student in all suspected areas of disability. By law, an IEP must include, among other items, a student’s present levels of achievements, a statement of what the student needs, measurable annual goals, and the special education and related services necessary for the child to meet those goals. The IEP is developed through a collaborative process involving a child’s parents or guardians, teachers, administrators, and others who have a vested interest in the child’s education. The goal of this IEP Team is to develop an IEP that will allow your child to get an appropriate education. And, you, as the parent, are a very important member of that team.

If you do not believe that your child’s IEP is appropriate, it is imperative that you take steps to remedy the situation as soon as possible. All too often, parents come to me after too much time has passed. As a result, years of education have been lost and wasted. One parent tried to go it alone against his child’s school district for years and only consulted with a lawyer after his child, who had autism, was 20-years-old. By that time, this young man had already lost most of his education. A child’s brain develops in such a way that it is much easier to learn earlier on. So, there is a real danger in waiting too long before you consult with an attorney to try to fix the problem. Also, the IDEA also contains a provision that prohibits parents from seeking remedies for legal violations that are more than two years old. The longer you wait, the worse your child will fare. Act quickly – attorneys, like us, are here to help you!

So, the key takeaways are:

  • Children with disabilities have a right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).
  • Prior to developing an IEP, school districts must evaluate the student in ALL areas of suspected disability.
  • IEP’s must include: present levels of achievement, a statement of what the student needs, measurable goals, and special education and related services necessary to meet such goals.
  • Parents have a right to participate in the development of their child’s IEP.
  • When you feel like something isn’t right with your child’s education, take action!