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Special Education and Disability Access: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is primarily a funding statute. It requires that each state educational authority develop a policy that ensures free appropriate public education is being provided to all children with disabilities by local agencies. The amount of funding is determined on a state-by-state basis by the number of disabled children between the ages of three and 21 who are receiving special education and/or other related services. At the center of IDEA is a requirement that a local educational agency develop on at least an annual basis an individualize education program for each disabled child. This plan states the current educational status of the child and sets forth goals and objectives for the child to meet. Room for parental consent or involvement is provided at each step in the child's education.

Free and Appropriate Public Education

IDEA defines free appropriate public education as special education and related services that are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction. Free appropriate public education must also meet standards set forth by state educational agencies; must include appropriate education at the preschool, elementary, and secondary levels; and must be provided in conformity with individualized education programs required under IDEA.

State Educational Agencies

IDEA shifts responsibility for ensuring that educational programs are in compliance with the provisions of IDEA to state education agencies. These agencies are required to promulgate a complaint procedure that provides the following services:

  • Receive and resolve complaints against state or local education agencies
  • Review appeals from decisions regarding a local education agency complaint
  • Conduct independent on-site investigations
  • Set forth a 60-day time limit to investigate and resolve complaints
  • Allow time extensions only in exceptional circumstances
  • Review relevant information and issue written decisions
  • Provide an enforcement mechanism

Local Educational Agencies

As the primary entity required to develop individualized educational programs for each disabled child in a particular locality, local educational agencies are at the center of the provision of IDEA. Residency of each child is the primary consideration for determining which local educational agency has responsibility for developing these educational programs. In some cases, determining the appropriate local agency can become difficult, particularly if the child's parents live in different districts. Many states have included provisions providing that the child's residency is that of the parent.

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