The primary piece of legislation that protects and guarantees children with special needs the right to an appropriate public education is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA), or IDEA, as it is commonly referenced.
IDEA is a federal law that requires each state to ensure that a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) is available to all eligible children with disabilities residing in that state. FAPE is the provision of special education and services at public expense in accordance with an IEP designed to help the child receive educational benefit.
Children between the ages of 3 and 21, who meet the eligibility criteria in one of thirteen qualifying disabilities and who require special education services because of the disability can qualify for services under IDEA.
The categories of disabilities are; autism, deaf/blind, deafness, hearing impaired, mental retardation, multiple disabilities, orthopedic impairment, serious emotional disturbance, specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment including blindness, and other health impairment.
To be eligible, a student must have a disability that adversely affects her or his educational performance and must need special education in order to receive an appropriate education.
Children who qualify under IDEA are provided with services and accommodations individualized to their needs.
At its most basic IDEA entitles a child suspected of having a disability to a comprehensive evaluation by a multi-disciplinary team provided at no cost to parents.
If the child is determined to need special education and related services an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be implemented based on the specific needs of the child as decided by the team, including parents.
Once covered under an IEP, students with disabilities are re-evaluated at least every three years and their IEP is reviewed whenever a change in placement occurs, which is often annually as transferring from grade to grade is considered a change in placement.
Federal site for information about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):