With the passage of the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government clearly created legal guidelines that help children with special needs to achieve academic success. However, the landmark special education law leaves plenty of room for states to implement different and additional legal standards that bolster the learning environment for children with disabilities.
IDEA classifies 13 types of disabilities that qualify students to receive a special education. The disabilities defined by IDEA include autism, deafness, blindness, and speech impairment. However, the severity level of each of the 13 different types of disabilities is the litmus test for children to receive special education benefits. States must follow the special education criteria established by IDEA, but states possess the legal flexibility to define who qualifies for each of the 13 disability types defined under IDEA. Some states allow school districts to determine special education eligibility.
The federal government clearly states under IDEA that every child possessing one or more disabilities is legally “entitled to a free and appropriate education.” As with many clauses within IDEA, “free and appropriate” education is open for legal interpretation. States must provide and enforce the implementation of free and appropriate education policies, but states have the legal flexibility to determine the type of instruction and services that meet the free and appropriate legal language set forth in IDEA.
Children that qualify for special educations must be placed in what IDEA calls the “least restrictive environment.” The federal special education law mandates several types of least restrictive environments, from one-on-one tutoring to the inclusion of special needs students in the standard classroom. Many schools created Individual Education Plans that start students in tutoring environments to prepare the students for a seamless transition to learning in standard classrooms. States must follow the legal language of the least restrictive environment clause of IDEA, but states have the legal means to choose how to structure schools to meet the least restrictive environment mandate.
IDEA presents legal language that defines early intervention for children with disabilities. However, the special education law does not define the term “developmental delays,” or who qualifies for developmental delay status. Each state has the leeway to define what cases a developmental delay and which special needs children qualify for fast track early special education intervention measures. Some states pay for physical therapy and/or family training, while other states require parents to pay for early intervention costs.
IDEA includes a provision that declares that schools must provide special education service for students until high school graduation or until students reach the age of 21. However, many states have extended the age requirement to accommodate special needs students that require more development. For example, Michigan extends the IDEA age requirement to 26 years.
Under IDEA, schools and school districts must create transition plans for special education students when the students reach 16 years of age. Some states require schools to implement transition plans earlier than IDEA mandates, such as Massachusetts, which declares that transition services must start when special needs students turn 14 years old.
The wide variety of state laws that apply to special education often confused parents, especially parents that relocate from one state to another state. The best way to learn about state special education law is to contact a licensed attorney. A free initial consultation will help you understand the legal requirements schools must meet under IDEA, as well as state mandates that fill in the legal blanks.