Background of the Law

In 1972, Congress commenced an investigation to determine the status of children with disabilities in the country. According to statistics from the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped, more than 8 million children were in need of special education and other related services. From that number, only 3.9 million were receiving appropriate education. 1.75 million of the handicapped children were not receiving any educational services at all. On the other hand, 2.5 million were receiving inappropriate education (Wright, 2010). These statistics resulted to introduction of legislation to the congress following several landmark court cases that established the right for education to all children with disability. Among the cases there was Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia and Pennsylvania Assn. for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PARC).These cases involved two important federal court rulings that aided in laying the foundation that led to the passage of Section 504 in 1973 of the Rehabilitation Act and the EAHCA; which is now regarded as IDEA.

IDEA was initially enacted in 1975 by Congress to help children with disability attain opportunities for appropriate public education as other children without disability. During this period, it was regarded as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142). Before the passage of the Act, public schools did not have outright obligations concerning children with disability. There was a lot of segregation taking place even for those that got the opportunity of joining public schools. The Act had come along as a result of a wave of activism during the 1960s and 70s (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). The law has been amended severally over the years. The recent amendment was passed in 2004 by Congress. It aims at solving the educational inequalities experienced by children with disabilities.

The Main Purpose of the Law

The major purposes of IDEA include ensuring the rights pertaining to children with disability, and their parents are protected.  It also ensures that they have access to “free appropriate public education” that focuses on special education and other prevalent services to help meet their needs. The Law also helps localities, states and educational service agencies to accord education for all students with disabilities. The IDEA Act also serves the purpose of assessing the effectiveness of efforts being undertaken to educate children with disability.


Main Provisions of the Law

Nondiscriminatory assessment

Under the IDEA Act, several processes are used in gathering information regarding a child that is said to have certain disabilities. The tools and tests involved normally ensure that aspects of discrimination with regards to ethnicity and race have been eliminated (Heward, 2016). There are two reasons revolving around the evaluation. The first one is to identify whether the child is eligible for special education. This is followed by an assessment of related services that might be required.

Being in a Least Restrictive Environment

Every school is expected to train students with disabilities how to interact with their peers without disability. There is a requirement that education services ought to be offered in a student’s “natural environment” for children below 3 years. This can be in either a community setting or the student’s home. For students between 3 and 21 years, they are supposed to be placed in a regular classroom. They can only be removed from these classrooms if they have severe disabilities that cannot be well catered for in a general classroom (Heward, 2016). The students with disability should be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities just like their peers.

Zero Reject

Schools are required to accord special education services to every student that has a disability. Every state has an education agency that is tasked with the responsibility of identifying and assessing all children up to the age of 21 years. This is normally regarded as the child find system.

Parental Safeguards and Involvement

Schools are required to seek consent from parents before they include a student in the special education programs. This is more applicable in the case of Individualized Education Program. They have the right to participate before a decision for inclusion is made. This is to say that the Act works in protecting the rights of the child and parent. In case there is disagreement between the parent and school regarding placement, evaluation or provision of desired public education, the parent can request a due process hearing. Before the due process is held, the parent should be accorded the opportunity of resolving the disagreement through a third party (Heward, 2016).

Free and Appropriate Public Education

IDEA requires that the education being provided to meet the needs of the student involved. This means that extra costs should not be incurred and the environment involved should be the least restrictive. It is not a matter of providing ideal education, but more of a beneficial education.

Impacts of the Law

The updates made to IDEA in 2004 had some impacts on some of the provisions involved. Among them is the Individualized Education Program (IEP). The changes made to IEP were quite significant both on what should be included during the process and the individuals to participate. The changes were quite important since IEP lays out the school’s commitment when it comes to special education. When updating the IDEA Act, Congress had the objective of reducing the complexity of the law, the paper work and meetings involved. The objectives help to explain some of the changes done on IEP provisions. Parents continued to be full and equal partners in the IEP process. However, IDEA now requires the discussions involved in the process to promote parent participation. This is to say that a parent’s input is now being regarded as being unique and meaningful. Under IDEA, every eligible student is required to have an IEP in effect before special education and other related services are provided. The IEP also ought to be reviewed at least once a year. Parents also have to offer consent before their children are subjected to the IEP process.

IDEA has also had an impact on the nature of environments that students with disability are subjected to. This is through the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). A child under special education is supposed to be subjected to an environment that allows him or her to reap maximum benefits. IDEA asserts that there are two things that are quite important when LRE is involved with regards to students with disability. One is that students with disability should interact with the other students to the “maximum extent that is appropriate. The other provision is that they should be removed from the general education class only when the disability is severe. These requirements have made it possible for students with disability to learn in the same environment as their peers hence enabling them to develop various skills and improve in their education prospects.

ESSA on it part has also brought about several changes that are likely to affect special education services. The Act has shifted accountability to the hands of the districts and states (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). This results in a shift in focus for advocacy groups. However, it presents parents with an opportunity to make a significant difference. This is because their voices can be amplified by taking part in the discussions involving special education at the state levels (acting as stakeholders at the state level). Having children with disability makes them more eligible for involvement with state plans and decisions. This will ensure that the best interest of students with disability is enhanced. The rules developed will aim at ensuring that the students lead a better life at all times.



U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Archived: 25 Year History of the IDEA.  Retrieved 30 September 2016, from

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Retrieved 30 September 2016, from

Heward, W. (2016). Six Major Principles of IDEA | Retrieved 30 September 2016, from

Wright, P. (2010). The History of Special Education Law – Wrightslaw. Retrieved 11 October 2016, from


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