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IDEA/IDEIA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

This page outlines, in easy-to-understand language, the 6 rights you and your child with a disability have under the federal law called IDEA (renamed IDEIA: Individuals with Disabilities Improvement Act).

The 6 Principles:

Principle 1: Zero Reject

Schools can not exclude any student with a disability from a free and appropriate education.

  • An appropriate education means that it is serving that student to the maximum extent possible. Thus, techniques must be used which help this child as an individual as much as possible.
  • This includes all children ages 3 to 21 without regard to the severity of the disability. 
  • This applies to all of the following
    • Public Education
    • Private Education
    • State-Operated Programs
    • Psychiatric Organizations 
    • Institutions for those with disabilities

Discipline: children with disabilities should be treated as if they do not have a disability except in the following cases:

  • Cessation: Any action that a child with a disability cannot lead to expulsion or suspension for more than 10 days total within each school year.
  • Special Circumstances: the school can take into account individual conditions or situations that allow for out of the ordinary treatment for that particular child.
  • Manifestation Determination: If the school considers differential placement for more than 10 days within one school year then the school has to determine if the child’s behavior is a part of the disability they have.
    • If it is a part of the disability then the school has to complete a “functional behavioral assessment” and form a “behavioral intervention plan” to attend to that student’s actions.  For the student to be placed in another location, the parents and school faculty have to agree on the alternative placement.
    • If it is not a part of the disability then the school must follow the rules stated above.
  • Temporary alternative settings: the student must still complete the goals outlined in their IEP (see Principle 3).

Weapons, Drugs, and Injury: the child may be placed in a temporary alternative setting for a maximum of 45 days without considering manifestation determination.

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Principle 2: Non-discriminatory Evaluation

A non-discriminatory evaluation should be used to determine if the child has a disability

  1. If not, then the child is treated as all other children in the general education classroom
  2. If so, the evaluation serves a second purpose: “to specify special education and related services the student will receive”
  3. A four step process should be used although only the last step is required.
    1. If you want your child to be treated with all of the following steps you should request it.
    2. Screening: tests that are given to all students to determine which students may need special attention
    3. Prereferral: present teachers with immediate assistance in the challenges they face teaching those with disabilities which may eliminate the need for the evaluation or special education services
    4. Referral: the official way to ask for a non-discriminatory evaluation
    5. Non-discriminatory Evaluation: completing a full evaluation of the child while adhering to the six Principles of IDEIA.

For more information on how the assessment should be conducted click here.

For more information on communication requirements between parents and educators click here.

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Principle 3: Appropriate Education

All students enrolled in special education have the right to an appropriate education and related services. This includes:

    • An Individualized Education (IEP)
    1. Should use evaluation from Principle 2
    2. should be in place at the beginning of the school year
    3. should be designed with an IEP team including at least one of the following
      1. Parents of the child
      2. General education teacher who specializes in the child’s educational level
      3. Special education instructor
      4. A representative of the school system, who must be qualified to provide and supervise special education, and should be well-informed about the general education curriculum and the school’s available assets.
      5. A person who can interpret the evaluation results
    4. An IEP team can also include
      1. Other individuals with knowledge about the student’s educational needs
      2. The student with the disability
      3. A friend of the parent with knowledge of the special educational process
      4. A friend of the child who may be able to provide suggestions
    • An obligatory review conference
      • This decides if the student’s yearly goals are being achieved.
      • IDEA requires the IEP team to review and possibly amend the IEP when suitable.
      • For the IEP meetings to run smoothly the following components should be integrated:
        • Advance Preparation
        • Introduce one another and get started
        • Review recent performance and the formal evaluation of the child
        • Discuss resources, concerns, and priorities
        • Discuss goals and high expectations
        • Take into consideration the relationships between student goals, placement, and services
        • Make student priorities written goals
        • Make a decision about placement and supplementary aids and services
        • Attend to any evaluation modifications and/or special factors
        • End the conference

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Principle 4: Least Restrictive Environment

A least restrictive environment (LRE) is an environment in which a student with a disability is placed in a general education program with students who do not have disabilities (Turnbull, Turnbull, & Wehmeyer, 2007, p. 17).

  1. This inclusion is necessary to the maximum extent appropriate
  2. Schools must also allow the inclusion of students with disabilities into sports and other extracurricular programs.
  3.  Keep in mind that after a student with a disability cannot benefit from a general education curriculum, even with the inclusion of supplementary aids and services, the school does have the right to place the student in an atypical classroom which would be less inclusive, yet more specialized in order to meet the student’s needs.
  4. IDEA states that if educators have “high expectations” of the child with disabilities, their education will be more effective
  5. School systems should consider the following settings in the following order (from least to most restricted):

1. General education
2. Resource rooms
3. Special classes
4. Special schools
5. Homebound services
6. Hospitals and institutions

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Principle 5: Procedural Due Process

  • This is a rule providing safeguards for students against schools’ actions, including the right to sue
  • If for any reason a parent believes that their child is not receiving an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment or IDEA’s principles are not being applied, they have the right to take the following steps of action:

1. Resolution session / mediation-a meeting between parents and state/local education agencies to settle their differences
2. Due process hearing- a mini trial before an impartial officer
3. Sue the school in state or federal court

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Principle 6: Parental and Student Participation

    • Requires schools to collaborate with parents and adolescent students in designing and carrying out special education programs
    • Parents have the right to:
      • Be members of the IEP team
      • Receive notice before the school does anything about the student’s right to a free and appropriate education
      • Access school records and control who has access to their student’s records
      • Must be invited to participate on special education advisory committees


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      Turnbull, A., Turnbull, R., & Wehmeyer, M.L. (2007). Exceptional Lives Special Education in Today’s Schools. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.


  Helping children, families, and educators in the Frostburg, MD region

This website was created by Frostburg State University Psychology Students as part of the Center for Children & Families.

(c) 2008 by Dr. Megan E. Bradley