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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a United States federal law, 20 U.S.C. § 1400

et seq., most recently amended in 2004, meant to ensure "a free appropriate public education" for students with disabilities, designed to their individualized needs in the Least Restrictive Environment.  The act requires that public schools provide necessary learning aids, testing modifications and other educational accommodations to children with disabilities. The act also establishes due process in providing these accommodations. Children whose learning is hampered by disabilities not interfering with his/her ability to function in a general classroom, may qualify for similar accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Definition of a "child with a disability"

IDEA defines "child with a disability" as:

a child . . . with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance . . ., orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities . . . who . . . [because of the condition] needs special education and related services.

See 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A) .

Individualized Education Program

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is created for any pupil who is found to be eligible under the state's eligibility/disability standards. The IEP is created by a team of specialists (including, but not limited to, special education teachers, general education teacher, school psychologists, and parents) that collaborate to set goals for the individual child.

Free Appropriate Public Education

IDEA stipulates that students with disabilities have the right to receive appropriate public preschool, elementary and secondary education and related services, meeting state curriculum and standards requirements at no cost to the parents or guardians (although some related service charges for infants and toddlers below age 2 may be applied on a sliding scale). Appropriateness is individually defined according to the one's IEP, which delineates specialized individual instruction. Public school districts are responsible for identifying all students with disabilities within their districts, regardless of whether they are attending public schools, since private institutions may not be funded for providing accommodations under IDEA.

Least Restrictive Environment

The U.S. Dept. Education, 2005a regulations implementing IDEA states:

"...to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities including children in public or private institutions or care facilities, are educated with children who are nondisabled; and special classes, separate schooling or other removal of children with disabilities from regular educational environment occurs only if the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily."

Under IDEA, a child is entitled to a placement through one's IEP into the least restrictive environment (LRE) for maintaining free appropriate public education (FAPE). Simply put, the LRE is the environment most like that of other children in which the child can succeed. This refers not only to the physical location of a child's learning, but also to how the child will be taught. The preference is that the child be included in regular education activities as much as possible. However, some disabilities may prohibit this option. In some respects, the type of placement is associated with the severity of the disability. The range of student placement in the LRE include pull-in programs, i.e., full time participation in general education classes utilizing supplementary aids and supports; co-teaching between general education and special education teachers; itinerant specialists serving general classrooms in many schools; pull-out programs making part-time attendance in special education classes available; self-contained special education classes attended most of the day; to special education facilities (including placement in day schools, hospitals, at home, or in full time residential facilities) for children with a particular disability.

Discipline

Pursuant to IDEA, discipline of a child with a disability must take that disability into account. For example, if a child with Aspergers is sensitive to loud noises, and if the child runs out of a room filled with loud noises, any discipline of that child for running out of the room must take into account the sensitivity and whether appropriate accommodations were in place.

According to the United States Department of Education, except for children with disabilities who have been suspended for not more than 10 days, within 10 school days of any decision to change the placement of a child with a disability because of a violation of a code of student conduct, the local education agency (LEA), the parent, and relevant members of the individualized education program (IEP) team (as determined by the parent and LEA) shall review all relevant information in the student's file, including the child's IEP, any teacher observations, and any relevant information provided by the parents to determine if the conduct in question was:

  • Caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to, the child's disability; or
  • The direct result of the LEA's failure to implement the IEP.

If the LEA, the parent, and relevant members of the IEP team make the determination that the conduct was a manifestation of the child’s disability, the IEP team shall:

  • Conduct a functional behavioral assessment and implement a behavioral intervention plan for such child, provided that the LEA had not conducted such assessment prior to such determination before the behavior that resulted in a change in placement described in Section 616(k)(1)(C) or (G);
  • In the situation where a behavioral intervention plan has been developed, review the behavioral intervention plan if the child already has such a behavioral intervention plan, and modify it, as necessary, to address the behavior; and
  • Except as provided in Section 616(k)(1)(G), return the child to the placement from which the child was removed, unless the parent and the LEA agree to a change of placement as part of the modification of the behavior intervention plan.

Legislative History

IDEA first came into being on October 30, 1990 when the "Education of the Handicapped Act" was renamed "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." (Pub. L. No. 101-476, 104 Stat. 1142). IDEA received minor amendments in October 1991 (Pub. L. No. 102-119, 105 Stat. 587).

IDEA received significant amendments in 1997. The definition of disabled children expanded to include developmentally delayed children between three and nine years of age. It also required parents to attempt to resolve disputes with schools and Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) through mediation, and provided a process for doing so. The amendments authorized additional grants for technology, disabled infants and toddlers, parent tranining, and professional development. (Pub. L. No. 105-17, 111 Stat. 37).

On December 3, 2004, IDEA was amended by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, though the abbreviation remains "IDEA." Several provisions aligned IDEA with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. It authorized fifteen states to implement 3-year IEPs on a trial basis. More concrete provisions relating to discipline of special education students was also added. (Pub. L. No. 108-446, 118 Stat. 2647).

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