The “Individuals with Disabilities Act” (“IDEA”) is a Federal Law that requires public school districts to identify children with disabilities and provide them with an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible, i.e. one that is as close to the regular educational environment as possible. Additionally, both Federal Law and Florida Law require that public schools provide a “free and appropriate public education.” To satisfy the “free” component of the law, school districts may not require any payment for the education. For example, if transportation, accommodations, assistive technology, or specific learning materials are needed for a child to receive an “appropriate” education, then those services must be provided free of charge. The definition of “appropriate” education is, typically, the issue that causes conflict between parents and school administrators. The determination of whether a specific accommodation is appropriate will depend upon the specific disability of the child and should be addressed in an “Individual Education Plan.”
However, before a child can receive special educational services, there must be a determination of eligibility. The “IDEA” requires that the student have a recognized “disability” which causes the need for special educational services. The disability categories and the eligibility requirements of those categories can be found in the text of the “IDEA.”
The following are examples of the disability categories:
- Intellectual Disability
- Speech or Language Impairment
- Developmental Delay
- Emotional Disturbance
- Multiple Disabilities
If the child is eligible for ESE services, the next step is to hold a meeting to write an Individual Educational Plan (IEP).
The IEP team includes the following members:
- The student’s parent(s) or guardian;
- The student, as appropriate, and in all meetings that address transition services needs and consideration of postsecondary education and career goals;
- At least one general education teacher if the student may be participating in the regular education environment;
- At least one special education teacher or service provider;
- A school district representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of specially designed instruction and is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and the availability of school district resources;
- An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of the evaluation results;
Parents must be given an opportunity to participate in meetings concerning the “IEP” and any educational placement for their child. Parents have a number of important roles in the IEP process. Parents bring firsthand knowledge about the strengths of their child and their concerns for enhancing their child’s education. The parents can provide information about day-to-day life, including their child’s particular ways of accomplishing tasks in different settings, and their perspective on the needs of their child. The parents can provide information on their child’s current progress in school as well as the needs to be addressed in the “IEP” meeting. Parents should not consent to any portion of an “IEP” that they feel is inappropriate for the needs of the child. Without parental consent, an “IEP” or the disputed portions of the “IEP” should not be implemented.
Conflict often arises after the “IEP” is drafted and typically relates to its implementation. School districts will often attempt to avoid the requirements of the “IEP” based upon conflicting “IEP” team member recommendations, limited educational resources or funding shortfalls.
When the school district fails to provide the educational accommodations necessary for your child’s education, make sure you have an advocate willing to fight for your child.