Legal Rights of Students With Disabilities


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is an American Federal regulation that oversees the way states and public agencies administer special education, and early childhood intervention, among other related services provided for children with special needs. This Act was first enacted in the year 1975 by Congress to make sure that an appropriate learning opportunity in public educational facilities was granted to children with disabilities in all states. The ACT normally addresses the educational needs of these children, from the time of birth up to the age of eighteen or twenty-one (Gargiulo, 2010). According to Gargiulo (2010), before the initiation of this legislation, about one million disabled children in the U.S. would lack access to public education. This paper observes the provisions of the IDEA Act and the amendments that have been made to its structure ever since 1975 when it was enacted.

The key components of the Original IDEA Act of 1975

Originally enacted over three decades ago, the Act was responding to the heightening awareness of the urgent desire to provide quality, as well as affordable education to American children with disabilities. It was also conforming to the decisions of the judiciary which provided that all states must be able to ensure education for children with disabilities, just as they did to others who were able-bodied. The first IDEA Act was composed of six core components as summarized below.

Free Appropriate Public Education

This was a significant principle of the provision which guaranteed that disabled children had free access to the appropriate education in public schools. FAPE observes and refers to a form of special education offered under public expense and supervision, and without any simple charges. The provision met all the requirements aligned to State educational agency and introduced early childhood educational programs, as well as elementary or high school learning, to the states or regions that would be involved. The program should be offered by the IEP, as it was observed in this provision.

Appropriate Evaluation

This was the second component of the law that observed that the right evaluation process was carried out appropriately for reasons of eligibility assessment, student performance observation, and educational programming. These would be necessary to ensure that the goal of the law was attained appropriately and fairly to the right beneficiaries of the plan.

Individualized Education Plan

This is the third component of the law that ensured that all disabled children had appropriate access to educational facilities. This provision required the entire program to be appropriately individualized. This component was well expressed at the students’ IEP; a designed plan which every student is required to have for their individual needs to be addressed appropriately.

Least Restrictive Environment

LRE is a core component of the Act. It observed that any child with special needs could satisfactorily acquire educational learning from either a special education classroom or a general education one, as it would be determined by a multidisciplinary team. This law also observes that there is a variety of placements for special learning, among other relevant services, to meet the different needs of disabled children.

Parent and Student Participation in the program

This component gives parents of disabled children a mandate to participate in the development of their children’s IEP. The Law observed the inclusion of both, the parents and the children, in decision making to find an appropriate approach towards the program’s implementation. Parents know their children better than anyone else, and there is no simple way to take important decisions without affecting the students’ later life. Thus, these decisions cannot be made without taking into consideration the parents’ views and opinions.

Procedures and Safeguards

This is the fourth component of the original law; a section that protects everyone involved in the program. This section ensures that parents have the privilege to view the records of their children, and can provide opinions on their progress. Moreover, the child should be provided with the right to be provided the benefit of participating in the program even if the identity of his/her parents or guardians is unknown. Through this segment, parents would be informed and allowed to forward any complaints or suggestions regarding the program and how it would be administered to their children.

IDEA Act Reauthorization

Since its initiation, the IDEA Act has had various modifications in some sectors. Some of these reauthorizations include People Law 99-457 (1986), People Law 105-17 (1997), People Law 101-476, and IDEA 2004 (People Law 108-446).

PL 99-457 (1986)

This component was signed into law on October 8, 1986, by President Reagan. The amendments reauthorized the Act of the Education of the Handicapped and included a strong national agenda that provided more and better services to disabled children and their families. In this amendment, the age limit for mandated services was changed from the previous limit of 5 to 21 years to include children between three to five years of age, who would benefit from early intervention services. A section of this provision would also form a program for toddlers and their families that would require the development of an IFSP for the services given.

PL 101-476

In the year 1990, the title of the special education law was changed from “Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act” to the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” PL 101-476 reaffirmed the need for a free and appropriate public education as observed in PL 94-142. This was achieved through an IEP that was related to the process produced and services. The act also supported PL 94-142’s amendments that prolonged the entitlement to all regions from ages 3 through to 21. The Act also incorporated programs that gave funding for early childhood intervention. More importantly, the provision also required learners to have their plan for transition in the IEP indicated, once they turn to the age of 16. Some amendments were also made in particular terms, for instance, ‘learning disabled students’ was changed to ‘students with learning disabilities.’ Accordingly, all other parts involving the term ‘handicapped’ had been permanently removed.

PL 105-17 (1997)

Substantial amendments to the law that affected children with disabilities occurred in the year 1997 after President Clinton had signed the law, and thus amending and reauthorizing the IDEA Act. The amendments put a much stronger emphasis on all the parties taking part in the IEP process, especially parents and children with disabilities. The amendments were also directed towards ways that helped in diversifying the outcomes for the disabled child. Many of the amendments here would have serious implications in almost every sector of the program.

IDEA 2004: PL 108-446

This provision was signed into law by President Bush on December 3, 2004, as the ‘IDEA Act.’ It promoted the accountability of the outcomes and improved the involvement of parents and guardians in the program’s process among other vast changes. The provision authorized funds for children with special needs from 3 to 21 years old. It also contained provisions concerning the overall design of special learning for the disabled among other related services. The Act had also observed the inclusion of highly qualified teachers in the special teaching program with at least a B. A. and a certificate in Special education. The component incorporated the application of more proven materials and practices and thus ensuring flexibility. It also played a significant role in reducing paperwork burdens to tutors and other relevant parties.

IDEA processes and guidelines for student referral

The ideal process for referral for evaluation of special education follows certain criteria as mandated by the IDEA Act. Generally, the first thing is to identify whereby a child would be identified for any need for services related to special education. Evaluation comes next but before this, the school staff should notify parents or guardians attached to the child about it through writing. Initial evaluation then followed within 60 days of receiving a written ‘go ahead’ from parents. It would then be necessary to find out how the child has been fairing and what is being observed in the general education program to assist in their learning. However, before referring a child for consideration of special learning, some schools first apply for the process of pre-referral intervention. In this process, school teams were formed to suggest learning procedures that teachers could incorporate within normal education. If the teacher applies the procedures and the child goes on to master them successfully, then, he or she is not required to undergo the referral process.

For any child suspected of bearing a specific type of learning, and emotional disturbance or a behavioral disorder, documented data must be present before any consideration is taken, showing that the child had previously received any form of scientific intervention to assist him/her in the general learning. Eligibility comes next in the line whereby the child’s suspected disability is identified and thorough evaluation, as per the IDEA section. In case the disability is established, the child will then proceed to the next stage of consideration. Here, they evaluate through a criterion-referenced examination or norm-referenced tests. The criterion-referenced examination is a process that applies for an achievement status. In this case, the student is required to display their ability to a certain level by doing tasks according to a specific level of difficulty. On the other hand, norm-referenced testing just compares a student’s performance to that of others of the norm group.

As mandated by the Act, a special education team (Multidisciplinary team) formally convenes a meeting to address the evaluation request within 30 days. The parents or guardians are also included in the meeting. This special team is known as multidisciplinary simply because it involves people of different occupations, such as personnel from the education panel, teachers, and also parents of the child. A student IEP (Individual Education Plan) is drafted at this stage as expressed by various parties. The IEP will contain information about the student’s needs, goals, level of functionality, and other information about accommodation and services required. Services should take effect immediately following the IEP meeting. However, before the child’s consideration as a special education beneficiary, this data must be present as it would be part of the information required to establish the desire for special education.


Gargiulo, R. M. (2010). Special education in contemporary society: An introduction to exceptionality (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. ISBN-13: 978-1-4129-8893-3.