IDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Act 


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation; it governs special education programs. It was originally enacted by Congress in 1975, while President Gerald Ford was in office. The most recent amendments were passed by Congress in December 2004, with final regulations published in August 2006. 


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.


IDEA is divided into four parts, as follows:

▪                       Part A - General Provisions

▪                       Part B - Assistance for Education of All Children with Disabilities

▪                       Part C - Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities

▪                       Part D - National Activities to Improve Education of Children with 



Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C.


IDEA has grown in scope and form over the years. IDEA has been reauthorized and amended a number of times, most recently in December 2004, which contained several significant amendments. Its terms are further defined by regulations of the United States Department of Education, which are found in Parts 300 and 301 of Title 34 of the Code of Federal Regulations.


In defining the purpose of special education, IDEA 2004 clarifies Congress’ intended outcome for each child with a disability: students must be provided a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.[ FAPE is defined as an educational program that is individualized to a specific child, designed to meet that child's unique needs, and from which the child receives educational benefit.


IDEA 2004 mandates that special education and related services should be designed to meet the unique learning needs of eligible children with disabilities, preschool through age 21.


IDEA law requirements, which can affect school district’s federal funding, revolve around specifically defined concepts, such as

-       The act requires that public schools create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student who is found to be eligible under both the federal and state eligibility/disability standards. The IEP is the cornerstone of a student's educational program. It specifies the services to be provided and how often, describes the student's present levels of performance and how the student's disabilities affect academic performance, and specifies accommodations and modifications to be provided for the student. When a child qualifies for services, an IEP team is convened to design an education plan..

-       An IEP must be designed to meet the unique educational needs of that one child in the Least Restrictive Environment appropriate to the needs of that child in which the child learns. It is meant to give the student a chance to participate in "normal" school culture and academics as much as is possible for that individual student. In this way, the student is able to have specialized assistance only when such assistance is absolutely necessary, and otherwise maintains the freedom to interact with and participate in the activities of his or her more general school peers. Core Academic Subjects - The term “core academic subjects” means "English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography."

-        Highly Qualified Teachers – Public school teachers have obtained full state certification and hold a license to teach in the state in the area teaching and holds at least a bachelor’s degree. To be considered highly qualified, special educators teaching core academic subjects must meet the requirements for special educators in general and demonstrate subject-matter competency in each subject taught.

-       Scientifically Based Research – Instructional practices should be based on research that confirms their effectiveness. The related research study has 1)  been published in a peer-reviewed journal or approved by a panel of independent experts, 2) had its results been replicated by other scientists, and 3)  there consensus in the research community that the study's findings are supported by a critical mass of additional studies. 

-       Requiring transition plans for students on IEPs at age 16. A Transition plan is intended to prepare students to move from the world of school to the world of adulthood; the IEP team considers postsecondary education or vocational training, employment, independent living, and community participation. Transition services must be a coordinated set of activities oriented toward producing results. 

-       Defines rules for eligibility determination.

-       Reporting on performance for district on goals and indicators relating to  students with disabilities. 


Some of the criteria specified in various sections of the IDEA statute includes requirements that schools provide each disabled student an education that:

▪   Is designed to meet the unique needs of that one student

▪   Provides “ …access to the general curriculum to meet the challenging expectations established for all children” (that is, it meets the approximate grade-level standards of the state educational agency)

▪   Is provided in accordance with the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as defined in 1414(d)(3).[12]

▪   Results in educational benefit to the child.[12]

For more information on IDEA, see