On Demand

Overview of Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

1h 32m

Created on June 20, 2016




The express purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is 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[.]" 20 U.S.C. §1400(d)(1)(A).

The IDEA is sometimes misunderstood as a civil rights statute guaranteeing equal access to education for children with learning and other disabilities. In actuality, the Act is a federal discretionary grants program in which states can – theoretically –  choose to participate. As famously interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Rowley, 485 U.S. 176 (1982), Congress' legislative intent was to provide disabled students with "access," not equal access, and "appropriate education" means receiving some specialized education services, rather than enabling each child with disabilities to maximize his or her academic potential.

Although the key concept of the Act – Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in a Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – does comprise a set of substantive rights for children with disabilities, the main legislative thrust of IDEA is to provide families with procedural safeguards in the event of a disagreement between the parents or legal guardians of a child with disabilities, on the one hand, and the school or school district on the other hand. The promulgation of such procedural safeguards is left up to the states.

As part of this course, we examine some state-specific procedural safeguards and review the practical aspects of representing children with disabilities and their parents at every step of the special education process, from navigating a Committee on Special Education (CSE) meeting, to obtaining an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE), to filing Due Process complaints, to handling an Impartial Hearing and subsequent steps in administrative and judicial review. We also briefly examine the fascinating history and legal theory behind the present iteration and interpretation of the Act, and take note of frequently occurring special situations.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Learn the history of the IDEA and distinguish between the substantive and procedural protections provided by the Act
  2. Understand procedural safeguards and provide practical guidance to representing children with disabilities and their families in special education proceedings before the school district, including due process complaints and impartial hearings
  3. Examine two common special situations under the Act: the peculiar circumstances of children with "invisible" communication disabilities such as hearing impairment, and the rights of parents to seek tuition reimbursement if a child has been placed in a so-called "non-approved" private school 

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