What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”)?

The “IDEA” is a federal law that ensures special education to eligible children with disabilities. The IDEA governs how states and public agencies address the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to the age of 21. Pursuant to the IDEA, each child with a disability must be provided with a free, appropriate public education (“FAPE”) that prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living.

What is a free, appropriate public education?

A free, appropriate public education, or “FAPE,” is the standard of education that is guaranteed by the IDEA to be provided to all eligible children between the ages of 3 and 21. FAPE requires that each eligible child receive a program of special education and related services individually designed to meet his or her unique needs, from which that child must obtain meaningful educational benefit. FAPE must be provided in conformity with an Individualized Education Program, at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge to the parents.

How does my child become eligible for special education under the IDEA?
In order for your child to become eligible for special education under the IDEA, he or she must first be evaluated. Once the evaluation is complete, the school district/Department of Education will typically schedule a CSE meeting (Committee on Special Education) to make a determination of whether your child has a disability and, if so, what type of services or class they qualify for. If your child has a disability and requires specially designed instruction and/or services, he or she will be eligible for special education under the IDEA.

​What happens once my child is found eligible for special education services under the IDEA?

Once your child has been determined to be eligible for special education, the CSE team will meet to develop an Individualized Education Plan (“IEP”) for your child.

Am I allowed to attend the CSE meeting to develop the IEP and to make educational decisions for my child?​ 

YES! You have an absolute right to attend and you should always attend. The IEP team will typically consist of the parents, your child’s teacher, a special education teacher, and a school district representative. You are also entitled to bring an attorney or an educational advocate to the meeting. 

What happens at the CSE meeting? 

This team will develop an IEP, which will set forth your child’s special education program. There are several required components of an appropriate IEP. A knowledgeableducation advocate or attorney will make sure that your child's right are protected. 

In order for my child to receive special education services, must he or she be instructed in a special education classroom?

No. Although special education is often thought of as something that occurs only in a special education classroom, special education is a level of service and not a location.

Public school districts are required to maintain a “continuum of placement options” where special education services may be provided to eligible students based upon their individual needs. These placement options range from the regular education classroom to full-time special education classrooms outside of the school district.

The IDEA mandates that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment (often referred to as LRE) to the maximum extent appropriate, requiring public school districts to educate students with disabilities with non-disabled peers, if possible. 

What if I do not agree with what the public school system offers my child?

If you do not agree with DOE school personnel on what is appropriate for your child, you should move quickly to consult with an attorney or educational advocate to find what your child's rights are and how to protect them. 

If the Department of Education (DOE) cannot provide your child with a FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) you have the right to enroll your child in a special education private school that can, and ask that the DOE pay the tuition. This process can be complicated and if possible, should be done with the assistance of an attorney or educational advocate.

Can parents really afford to retain an attorney to pursue their child’s rights?
While everyone’s situation is different, in most cases obtaining legal representation to pursue your child’s rights under the IDEA is more affordable than you might think. Please contact us and we will gladly discuss this with you.

What is a 504 plan? How does it differ from an IEP?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was one of the first federal laws passed to protect the civil rights of the disabled. A student may be eligible under Section 504 if he or she 1) has a record of having, or is regarded as having a disability that 2) interferes with a major life activity, such as learning. Although largely a discrimination statute, Section 504, much like the IDEA, requires schools to provide eligible disabled students with a free and appropriate public education (“FAPE”). In order to ensure that eligible students receive FAPE under Section 504, schools must develop 504 plans (also called 504 service agreements) that articulate specific accommodations that will be provided to the child as part of his or her educational program.

While 504 plans are similar to IEPs in that they both provide a written description of the educational supports that will be provided to an eligible student, they differ in that generally a 504 plan concerns only accommodations to be made for a student “to level the playing field” in the educational environment, as opposed to modifications to actual instruction. Conversely, while an IEP may include accommodations as well, an IEP will always contain specially designed instruction and could affect instructional content.

What educational rights do gifted students have?

There is no federal statute (like the IDEA) that requires school districts to provide supports to children who may be gifted. If your child is gifted but also has learning, social/emotional or behavioral challenges that impede his or her  ability to learn or make progress they may be entitled to special education services. The children that fall into this category are sometimes referred to as twice exceptional (2e). There are few public programs that can serve the needs of students that fit this profile.