Special Education Law & the “Individualized Education Program”
Special education laws give children with disabilities and their parents important rights. Specifically, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) gives families of special education children the right to:
- have their child assessed or tested to determine special education eligibility and needs
- inspect and review school records relating to their child
- attend an annual “individualized education program” (IEP) meeting and develop a written IEP plan with representatives of the local school district, and
- resolve disputes with the school district through an impartial administrative and legal process.
Eligibility Under IDEA
Every school district is legally required to identify, locate, and evaluate children with disabilities (20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(3)). After the evaluation, the district may provide the child with specific programs and services to address special needs.
IDEA defines “children with disabilities” as individuals between the ages of three and 22 with one or more of the following conditions:
- mental retardation
- hearing impairment (including deafness)
- speech or language impairment
- visual impairment (including blindness)
- serious emotional disturbance
- orthopedic impairment
- traumatic brain injury
- specific learning disability, or
- other health impairment
(20 U.S.C. §1401(3); 34 C.F.R. §300.8).
For your child to qualify for special education under IDEA, it is not enough to have one of these disabilities. There must also be evidence that the disability adversely affects your child’s educational performance.
Once a child is found eligible for special education, subsequent evaluations take place at least every three years. If you are not satisfied with the initial evaluation or you feel your child’s disability or special education needs have changed, your child is entitled to more frequent assessments, and even outside or independent assessments (20 U.S.C. §1414; 34 C.F.R. §§300.301-306).
Individualized Education Program (IEP)
Under IDEA, special education develops and implements an individualized education program, or IEP, that meets your child’s unique needs. The acronym IEP refers to several related things:
- an initial meeting where the school district determines whether or not your child is eligible for special education
- a yearly meeting where you and school representatives develop your child’s educational plan, and
- a detailed written description of your child’s educational program.
Every written IEP document must include the same information, although forms will vary from one school district to another.
- Current educational status — a description of your child’s current “academic achievement and functional performance” in school.
- Goals and objectives — “measurable annual goals” designed to meet your child’s specific educational needs.
- Instructional setting or placement — a determination of the situation and services needed to provide your child with an appropriate education.
- Transition services — considerations of the vocational and placement needs for a child who is 16 or older.
- Due process — your right to take any dispute you have with your child’s school district to a neutral third party for resolution. (Parents of children who are not in special education do not have this right.)
Special Education Law: 2005 Changes
In 2005, Congress made important modifications to IDEA. While most special education rights and procedures remain the same under this new law, there have also been numerous and significant changes. For instance, the new law affects:
- teacher qualifications
- teaching methods
- transition services
- how a school may identify a child with a learning disability, and
- the content, development, review, and revision of IEPs.
In 2006, the Department of Education issued regulations interpreting the revised IDEA. These regulations add requirements and rules that go well beyond the scope of the actual law. If you have a child in special education, it is important that you understand how the regulations affect your child’s rights.
This case was not handled by our firm. However, if you have any questions regarding this case, or any education matter, please contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.
If you have a child with a disability and have questions about special education law, please call the experienced Education Attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com