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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004

What is IDEA 2004?

IDEA 2004 stands for “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004”.  This law was established to make sure children with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education with the assistance of services that meet their individual needs.  These services enable the child to continue their education in order to prepare them for life as an adult.  As a result of this law, children with disabilities are given the opportunity to receive intervention services related to their disability to help them access the public school curriculum.

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What is the Purpose of the law?

“(A) to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living 1400 (d)(1)(A)”.

Why an appropriate education and not the best education?

Parents always want the best for their children but in the case of IDEA 2004 “Best” is a four letter word.  Be cautious when discussing your child’s educational needs from using terms like “I want what’s best for my child” or “I just want the best possible education”.  The law is very specific in that it only requires an appropriate education and not the best education. (refer to purpose of the law for review)

How does this law help my child?

The law allows parents to request an assessment for an Individualized Education Program (IEP), in order to determine whether their child has a disability and requires services to help them to access the curriculum.

What is an IEP?

An IEP is a legal document that describes exactly what special education services your child will receive and why. It will include your child’s eligibility, present levels of performance, services, goals and objectives. The IEP is decided at an IEP meeting.  The program must be designed to meet your Child’s unique needs.

What happens after a parent opens an IEP?

A parent can initiate an assessment at any time.  Once the initial request has been made and an assessment plan has been sent home, the school has 60 days or the amount of days determined by State law in which to conduct the various evaluations and assessments that the parent requested for their child.  At the end of assessment period, there is a meeting held between the parents, teacher and specialists to discuss the results of all the evaluations to determine whether the child has a disability and is eligible for services.

What are Assessments?

An assessment is a battery of formal and informal tests used to determine a disability category and IEP eligibility.  An assessment should take place in all areas of suspected disability.  These could include cognitive, achievement, speech, auditory process, emotional, neuropsychological, memory, attention, developmental, visual and sensory.  The personnel conducting the assessments must be professionally trained and competent.  They should be able to explain the test results in language the parents can understand.

What determines if my child is eligible for special education services?

Children may receive special education services if they have one of the following eligibilities:

1.   autism or autistic-like behaviours
2.   deaf-blindness
3.   deafness
4.   emotional disturbance
5.   hearing impairment
6.   mental retardation
7.   multiple disabilities
8.   orthopedic impairment
9.   other health impairment
10. specific learning disabilities
11. speech or language impairment
12. traumatic brain injury
13. visual impairment including blindness

And who by reason thereof, NEEDS special education and related services.

Who decides what services my child needs?

The IEP meeting is a collaborative effort between the school team and the parents.  The school’s job is to explain the results of the evaluations and make their recommendations for services.  The parent’s job is to give their feedback regarding the evaluation results and recommendations which they feel might help their child in school.  The goal is for both parties to come to an agreement on the amount of services needed to help the child receive an appropriate education.

What are related services?

Related Services include transportation, developmental services, corrective services and other supportive services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education unless there is a medical services exception.  The U.S. Supreme Court established that only services of a physician would trigger a medical services exception.

What is the benefit of an IEP meeting for my child?

The IEP meeting allows parents and school officials to design and implement a strategy for a child who has a disability that is affecting their ability to access the school’s curriculum.   The services, accommodations and/or modifications are used to help the child achieve the goals/objectives that were established in the IEP meeting.

What are accommodations and modifications?

Accommodations do not reduce grade level standards but rather help provide access to the curriculum.  Accommodations can include visual presentation, auditory presentation, multi-sensory presentation, response, setting, organization, timing and scheduling.  Modifications actually lower learning expectations and should only be used if this is the only way for the child to be successful.  Parents must understand if modifications to grade level standards are being made their child may be at risk for not meeting graduation requirements.

What is the purpose of a “Least Restrictive Environment”?

The goal is to help your child have an opportunity to receive an appropriate education despite their disabilities in the “Least Restrictive Environment”.  IDEA requires that children with disabilities be educated with children who are not disabled to the extent possible.  This means that the child should be placed into a mainstream class and only be removed if the use of aids and other services can’t provide satisfactory results.  Potential education placements from least restrictive to most restrictive are:

1.   general education without services
2.   general education with push in services
3.   resource specialist program (pull out services)
4.   special day class
5.   non-public school
6.   day treatment center
7.   residential treatment center
8.   home hospital

What is the Big Picture?

By attaining educational services, you are giving your child the opportunity to achieve the long term goal.  That goal is:  Preparing your child for further education and independent living.

What is an Individualized Transition Plan?

At the age of 16 the child must be invited to the IEP meeting and a plan must be put together to help the child prepare for life, education and career after high school.  The focus should be on learning life skills and promoting adult independence.  The child should be a part of the process because the transition services should be based on the individual needs, taking into account the child’s preferences and interests.  The Individualized Transition Plan (ITP) must include appropriate, measurable, post-school goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments. Transition Services include:

1.   instruction,
2.   related services,
3.   community experiences,
4.   the development of employment and other post school adult living objectives,
5.   acquisition of daily living skills (when appropriate), and
6.   functional vocational evaluation (when appropriate).

What is the age of majority?

The age in which the child will now be considered an adult and MUST receive notice of an IEP meeting, consent to an evaluation, select the participants of an IEP meeting, attend an IEP meeting and consent to the contents of an IEP.  These rights must be explained no later than one year prior to the age of majority.  The age of majority is most commonly the 18th birthday but could be different based on the State you live in. See the chart for the age of majority in your State. .

What is a Certificate of Completion?

A Certificate of Completion (COC) indicates that a special education student has completed four years of high school, but has not met all graduation requirements.  Students that receive a COC are allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies with their peers.  They also remain entitled to special education services until they meet graduation requirements and receive a diploma, voluntarily leave school or reach the age of 22.

What is a Summary of Performance?

A Summary of Performance (SOP) must be generated for special education students who are leaving school with a diploma or aging out (at 22).  The SOP outlines the students academic achievement and how they function in activities of daily living.  The SOP will also include recommendations about how to assist the students in meeting post school goals.  The SOP is not part of the IEP.

What is the discipline statute?

The school may suspend a child with a disability who violates a code of student conduct for up to 10 days in any school calendar year.  The exception to this rule is if the conduct involves weapons, illegal drugs or has inflicted serious bodily injury in which case the child may be moved to an alternate placement for up to 45 days.  If it is determined that the behavior was caused by the disability (“a manifestation of the disability”) then the school must perform a functional behavioral assessment (“FBA”) and implement a behavioral intervention plan (“BIP”).  If there is already a BIP in place then the IEP team must review and modify the plan to address the ongoing behaviour.

How do you determine if the behavior is a manifestation of the disability??

A manifestation IEP meeting must be held within 10 days of the conduct.  At which time the IEP team must consider all relevant information, including IEP, any teacher observations, and information supplied by the parents.  The IEP team must then answer two questions:

1. Was the conduct caused by, or had a direct and substantial relationship to the child’s disability; and

2. Was the conduct the direct result of the School’s failure to implement the IEP.

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then by law, the behavior was a manifestation of the disability.

What Happens if there is a Disagreement?

Remember you have the right to disagree with the IEP in whole or in partNever agree to anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.  IDEA 2004 has very specific procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the child.  If your child already has an IEP and you disagree with any part of it, the School District must maintain the current educational placement pending any proceedings.  This clause most commonly referred to as a “Stay Put” means there can be no reduction of services while the disagreement is being worked out.   The disagreement is typically worked out through a Mediation or Due Process Hearing.  If there is a disagreement over the assessments conducted by the School District the parents have the right for an independent educational evaluation to be paid for by the School District.  If a parent requests an independent educational evaluation the school district must either a) agree, or b) disagree and take the parents to due process to explain why they disagree.

What is Mediation?

A mediation is a meeting facilitated by a mediator used to find a peaceful settlement of the disagreement prior to starting costly litigation.  The Requirements are:

1.      Mediation is voluntary for both parties.

2.      Mediation may not be used to delay or deny a parent’s right to a due process hearing or to deny other rights guaranteed under the IDEA.

3.      Mediation must be conducted by a qualified and impartial mediator trained in effective mediation techniques.

If a resolution is reached at the mediation, a legally binding settlement agreement will be signed by all parties involved.  Once a settlement agreement is executed a new IEP meeting must be called to implement the services outlined in that agreement.  If a resolution is not reached the next step would be a Due Process Hearing.  There are normally two forms of mediation, informal mediation and formal mediation as part of a Due Process complaint.  Depending on your State informal mediation may not allow the use of attorneys or paid advocates.

What is a Due Process Hearing?

A  Due Process Hearing is typically held by the state department of education and overseen by an impartial hearing officer.  The parents and the school personnel get a chance to give their side of the story.  The hearing officer then decides how to solve the disagreement.  A decision made at a hearing shall be final, except either party can appeal the decision.  A decision made at appeal shall be final, except either party may bring a civil action.   Hearing decisions shall be made on substantive grounds unless procedural violations impeded the child’s right to a free appropriate public education, significantly impeded the parents opportunity to participate in the decision making process or caused a deprivation of educational benefits.

What are Substantive Issues?

Substantive issues result in the denial of a free appropriate public education when the School District:

1. Does not address the child’s unique needs;

2. When the IEP does not provide some education benefits;

3. When the IEP is not followed; and

4. When the placement is not in the least restrictive environment.

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