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Federal Special Education Law

October 27, 2021
Advocacy, Family Support, Special Education

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that gives students with disabilities the right to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), that is, with as many of their non-disabled peers, as possible. These terms are the basis to understanding a student’s on-going legal right to an education in the U.S.

The purpose of IDEA is to ensure FAPE for children with disabilities ages 3 to 21 in the most inclusive setting, known as the LRE. The specific details of an individual student’s provision of FAPE and LRE are recorded in a legal document called an Individual Education Program (IEP).

  • The IEP determines which combination of special education services, accommodations, and programs a student needs in order to access the education curriculum.
  • The services in the IEP must be appropriate. They must be created to meet a student’s individual and unique needs. 

How is eligibility for services established under the IDEA?

A parent, teacher, health or service provider, may make a referral for an evaluation (at no cost) when a disability is suspected. Evaluation reports, along with other school records, medical documentation, classroom observations, information from other specialists and parents, are used to establish eligibility. 

What else must be done to receive special programs and services?

The IEP team will schedule an initial meeting with the family and all relevant school professionals to determine eligibility and develop the IEP. Parents are required to be invited to all IEP meetings.  

What parental rights exist under the IDEA?

Under the IDEA, parents are IEP team members and should expect to participate and advocate for services, programs and accommodations that are deemed appropriate and enriching for their child. Parents who understand special education law in addition to their child’s disability, needs, and strengths can help IEP teams make appropriate decisions.

Parents have the right to be involved in the creation/development of the IEP, and are full members of the decision-making team, including during identification, evaluation, and placement of their child. They also have the right to be informed before any changes are made to a student’s programs and services. See the Procedural Safeguards for more on parental rights.

Do parents have rights under the IDEA if they disagree with the IEP?

If there is a disagreement or a problem that cannot be resolved with the school, parents can exercise their due process rights under the IDEA, which includes access to mediation and impartial hearings. Learn more about due process rights here

*Bolded language is directly from the law and other legal documents that you can use in your IEP meetings to collaborate with the educational professionals to develop the IEP.  Please note that INCLUDEnyc is not a legal entity and cannot provide legal services or advice.

**If the student goes to school in Districts 1-32, they will have a school-based IEP team.