Enacted in 1975 and reauthorized twice since its passage, the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees students with disabilities a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible. Following the passage of the IDEA, as well as other federal laws such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, students with disabilities began to be “mainstreamed” into regular classrooms.

What does the IDEA require?

First called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and later renamed as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the IDEA requires a school district to evaluate a student’s special needs and to provide the student with an individualized education program (IEP) or an independent educational evaluation. The IDEA provides that a student and his or her parents have a right to confidentiality of information regarding the student. Many states also have laws or regulations that supplement the provisions of the IDEA.

What rights do parents have under the IDEA?

Parents of children who receive special education or special services pursuant to the IDEA have the right to inspect their child’s school and test records. Additionally, parents have the right under the IDEA to have their representatives review such school records. Parents are also allowed input into the planning and modification of their child’s IEP. Parents can bring a lawsuit against a school district for an alleged failure to provide an individualized education program.

How is the IDEA enforced?

The requirements of the IDEA are binding on the states. The federal agency that is primarily responsible for enforcing the IDEA is the United States Department of Education. The Department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is tasked with improving results and outcomes for people with disabilities. In do doing, OSERS provides support to parents, students, schools, and states.

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