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When you have a child that potentially qualifies for special education services, it is essential to have knowledge about your legal rights, specifically under IDEA. IDEA, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act, was unprecedented in the rights it bestowed on children with disabilities and learning differences, as well as their parents. 

To help you make the most of your child’s rights, we have provided all the need-to-knows to advocate for the education your child deserves. 

What Is IDEA?

IDEA was made into law in 1975, and then revised in 2004. It guarantees children from birth through high school, or age 21 depending on individual circumstances, receive an appropriate education and services at no cost to the family. 

The purpose of IDEA is to make sure all children, no matter their ability and needs, have access to an education that prepares them as much as possible for life after the school-age years. Throughout their school years, IDEA also ensures their individual rights are protected.

It is the school district’s job to identify and evaluate these students and deem them eligible for special education services in order to provide them with the education to meet their needs. Once identified as eligible for services, IDEA guarantees:

  1. They are provided with a free appropriate public education, or FAPE.
  2. They are placed in the least restrictive environment (LRE), given as much opportunity as possible to interact with peers in the general education population. 

Who Is Covered Under IDEA?

To be found eligible to be covered under IDEA, your child must have a disability that fits into one of 13 distinct categories:

  1. Autism
  2. Deaf-blindness
  3. Deafness
  4. Emotional disturbance
  5. Hearing impairment
  6. Intellectual disability
  7. Multiple disabilities
  8. Orthopedic impairment
  9. Other health impairments, such as ADHD or Tourette syndrome
  10. Learning disability
  11. Speech/language impairment
  12. Traumatic brain injury
  13. Visual impairment

However, even if the student falls into one of the above categories, in order to qualify for special education services, the disability must affect their educational performance.


Once your child is deemed eligible for services, IDEA mandates that the child study team at your local school district is responsible for putting together an IEP (Independent Education Plan). This will specify the services your individual child will receive according to their specific needs.

Each year, the IEP will be reviewed and given updates according to progress. You, as the parent, can request a meeting at any time, however, if you feel like the education plan needs revision. 

Your Role As A Parent

Another key component of IDEA is the rights it gives to the parents at every step of the process. The school district must include you in the evaluation, the writing of the IEP, and any other decisions for your child that involve their education.

From the beginning, you will be involved in the team that conducts the initial evaluation after your child has been referred for potential special education services.

Once found eligible, you will have a voice in the development of the IEP, and most importantly, you will need to sign the document in order for the implementation of the services to begin

If, at any point, you disagree with the school staff about your child’s education, you have the right to request an independent evaluation, look at your child’s school records, and advocate for alternative options, including private school placement. 

As a parent of a special needs child, ensuring your child has every advantage possible can at times feel overwhelming. Becoming familiar with your own rights, however, can go a long way to ensuring your child receives the best education for them.


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