I am very proud that my nephew graduated from high school this year and earned both his Eagle Scout badge and a college scholarship. These accomplishments are particularly impressive because he has a form of autism.
Some of his success may be attributable to him obtaining special education under a federal law known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA). This article discusses some of the components of IDEA.
Overview: IDEA is just one of several statutes that govern access to education for children with special needs. The Colorado Exceptional Children's Education Act (ECEA) implements IDEA in Colorado. IDEA provides a process for identifying children with special needs, providing special education and resolving disputes that may occur along the way. IDEA is largely driven by the concept of parent advocacy and contemplates parents and schools working together as a team.
Child find: The first step in the process is to identify whether a child needs special education. Children that don't need special education are not protected by IDEA, but may find protection under other laws. To qualify for special education, a child must have one or more of a broad range of disabilities. The "child find" system permits a parent, child or school to initiate an evaluation process of any child. After the evaluation, a "team" consisting of at least one teacher (or other specialist) and parent meets to consider the child's eligibility for special education.
IEP: If the team determines that a child needs special education, the next step is to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child. An IEP is a highly detailed document that describes present levels of performance, needed services and progress to be achieved. IDEA provides for regular monitoring of the IEP and continued evaluation of the child to address problems and gauge success. The purpose of the IEP is to give the child a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE) in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE).
FAPE: The exact meaning of FAPE has been the subject of much discussion (as well as lawsuits) because interested people disagree about what is "appropriate" for a child (which is not the same thing as what is "best" or will maximize potential for a child). FAPE may include related services such as transportation.
LRE: Children with disabilities are entitled to be educated in the LRE possible - that is, with nondisabled children. This means generally that children with special needs are not to be placed in special classes or separate schools if they could succeed in the regular classroom using supplementary aids and services.
Due process: IDEA provides numerous procedural safeguards protecting the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. These procedural safeguards must be outlined in an annual notice that schools give parents. The school district is required to give "prior written notice" to parents when it takes action with regard to a child that is or may be disabled. While many disputes should be handled informally through direct discussions between parents and schools, IDEA also provides a more formal dispute resolution process that affords a hearing and rights of appeal.
Discipline: While all students have due process rights in a school discipline process, discipline for a child under IDEA is more complex. The special framework basically accounts for the fact that the child has a disability and tries to determine if the conduct requiring discipline is a manifestation of the disability (including behavior that results from the school district's failure to carry out the IEP). It then provides for flexible discipline strategies.
From what I have seen, when it comes to helping children with special needs, IDEA is a good idea.
Noah Klug is owner of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, located in Summit County. His practice focuses on business, real estate, and litigation. He may be reached at (970) 468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.