The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (ages birth–2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA, Part C. Children and youth (ages 3–21) receive special education and related services under IDEA, Part B.

In addition to meeting the legal requirements of IDEA, the commitment made by districts and schools to provide a high-quality education in an inclusive setting to all students with disabilities is crucial to their success.

IDEA Key Terms:

The IDEA (reauthorized in 2004) ensures a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is provided to children and youth with disabilities at public expense.

  • This includes an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education.
  • This is provided in conformity with the individualized education program (IEP).
  • Students must be permitted to register at their school of zone.
  • Transfer students must be provided with comparable services while eligibility and the IEP is reviewed.
  • Textbooks must be provided to all students.
  • Special events, field trips, computers, and library materials must be covered and provided to all students.

The IDEA requires that children be educated in the least restrictive environment in which they can progress.

  • “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(5)(A)).
  • Special education instruction must be provided to students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE).
  • Students with disabilities are educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Students with disabilities must be educated in the school they would attend if they did not have a disability, unless the student's IEP requires other arrangements.

The IDEA mandates that each LEA provides a continuum of placements.

  • Requires that the LEA annually provide to the state department of education “an assurance that a continuum of alternative placements are available to meet the needs of children with disabilities” (34 C.F.R. 300.115 ).

Findings: Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.