Legal Rights & Protections

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Special education could not be what it is today without IDEA. The law was passed by Congress in 1975 and has been revised several times since then. IDEA was enacted in order to ensure that the rights of all children with disabilities to receive a public education were protected. In 1986, IDEA was revised to include infants and preschoolers.

Until this revision, IDEA only covered individuals with disabilities who were in the age range of 6-21. In a nutshell, IDEA was created to make sure children with disabilities received a free and appropriate education specifically designed to meet each student’s unique needs. There are six major principles that support this notion of a free and appropriate education. They are:

Zero Reject: The zero reject principle states that it is the school’s responsibility to educate ALL children with and without disabilities. The nature or severity of the disability a student has is irrelevant. It is the responsibility of school districts to locate and evaluate all children who have disabilities or are suspected of having disabilities, from birth to age 21 who live in that state.

Nondiscriminatory Identification and Evaluation: When determining if a child has a disability or is in need of special education, the school must use fair and accurate evaluation procedures that are unbiased and multifaceted. Evaluations should always be given in the child’s native language, or in the language that will be best portray the student’s abilities. Evaluations should also attempt to control for any possible bias of race, culture, or language by selecting the most appropriate measures for the student.

Free, Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): This is to assure that all students with disabilities receive an appropriate public education that is provided at no cost to the family. Also, an individualized education program (IEP) must be developed by a team of individuals working with the student (including parents, and the student if appropriate) to meet the specific needs of any child receiving special education. The IEP must include goals for the student, and must be reviewed on a yearly basis.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): This principle demands that students with disabilities be educated with their peers without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate. If this means a student can function in the same classroom as his peers so long as he has accommodations or supports, those accommodations and supports should be provided to that student by the school. Students with disabilities should only be removed to separate classes or schools if the nature or severity of their disabilities prevents them from receiving an appropriate education in the general education classroom, even with accommodations and support. Examples of supports can include collaboration between special education and general education teachers, modifications to the general curriculum, assistive technology, or personal assistance from peer buddies or paraprofessionals (teacher aides).

Due Process Safeguards: Safeguards are included in IDEA to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents. These major safeguards are:

  1. Before evaluations are started, or decisions are made about the best placement for the student, the parents must provide their permission or consent. Before this can happen, it is important that parents have an opportunity to understand exactly what will happen with their child, and that members of the school staff do not pressure the family to provide permission. The student should also be asked if it is okay with them!
  2. The school has to keep all of the information that they learn about a student during an evaluation in a file which is kept private. If the parents want to see this file at any time they have to be able to access it.
  3. If parents disagree with the school’s evaluation results or decisions regarding their child, they have the right to get a second evaluation from a doctor or psychologist outside of the school. The school must pay for this evaluation.
  4. If parents disagree with the decisions made by the school team about their child’s placement, disability, or the services that the student is provided with, they have the right to a hearing where a judge hears from the parents and then members of the school staff. A decision about whether the plan that is in place follows the educational law is made.
  5. Parent and Student Participation and Shared Decision Making: The parents and student (whenever possible) must be included in making all decisions about the student’s education. This includes designing and implementing special education services, placement decisions, goal-setting, and whether to provide related services such as a transportation aide, or speech therapy.

As a peer buddy, the least restrictive environment principle described above affects you also. As more students who have disabilities participate in the general curriculum, there is more demand for support in general education classes. It is typically more comfortable for a student with a disability to have a peer help him or her in the classroom instead of a teacher’s assistant. This is more natural and keeps the student with a disability from standing out among the rest of his or her peers in the classroom. Of course, sometimes the extra help of a teacher assistant is necessary, but the goal is always to enable the student to become as independent as possible, and this is especially where peers can help.

The existence of and continued support for IDEA is one of the most significant and positive events to happen to the field of special education. Now let’s look at some anti-discrimination laws that protect individuals with disabilities, starting with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These anti-discrimination laws are important because they are not only concerned with education, but with other aspects of society as well.

Watch the following video:

Why do you think developing the IEP is a team process? Who do you think are the most important members of the team and why? While the school employees provide insight into how the child learns, think about all the things that you know about yourself and your parents know about you. Imagine that you are a student with a disability and describe why it would be important to you to be at your own IEP meetings.

More than just being at the meeting, it is rewarding for older students to learn to lead their own IEP meetings. Some benefits of student lead meetings are that the focus is often kept on the strengths of the student and the positive ways in which the family and school can work together to meet the needs of the student. Watch this video of a student lead IEP meeting:

With the help of your teacher, you can help your peer buddy create a presentation that will show the IEP team the student’s strengths, accomplishments, and what the student would to learn in the coming year.