Protecting the Rights of Children and Their Families under the IDEA
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. §1400, et seq is the federal law that secures special education services for children with disabilities. The law is meant to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living; and to ensure that the rights of children with disabilities and parents of such children are protected.
Special education is not a place where children are sent. Special education is a set of services meant to enable children with special needs to reach their potential. There is a continuum of placements available to meet the unique needs of each child. This continuum ranges from the general education setting with appropriate support, to a residential placement, and everything in between. The law requires that each child be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE) that is appropriate to meet that child’s needs.
Knowing whether your child is receiving appropriate and adequate services can be difficult for parents who have had little or no experience with special education before. Fortunately, an experienced New Jersey special education attorney can help to ensure that your rights and the rights of your child under federal and state law are fully protected, and can help you navigate the often overwhelming special education process. If you suspect that your child may have special needs, or need assistance with the IEP process, please do not hesitate to discuss your situation with Lori E. Arons, Esq. Attorney at Law today.
The History of IDEA
Before federal laws were enacted to address the educational rights of children with special needs, millions of children with disabilities did not have access to necessary services, and many were excluded entirely from attending public schools at all. Those disabled children who did attend school were routinely segregated from their peers and educated in separate classrooms, which were often “babysitting” programs that provided minimal to no educational benefit. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which is the predecessor of the IDEA, is founded in and secured by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The IDEA is a civil rights act, implementing the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and it places an affirmative obligation upon the States to provide children with disabilities a free and appropriate education. Millions of children with special needs and their parents now benefit from the rights provided under the IDEA. The law consists of six main elements that address the following:
- Individualized Education Program (IEP) – an IEP is a written statement of the educational program designed to meet a child’s individual needs. Every child who receives special education services must have an IEP.
- Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – requires that schools provide every eligible school-age child with a disability, at no cost to the parents, an education tailored to meet the child’s unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”
- Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – means that, to the maximum extent appropriate, school districts must educate students with disabilities in the regular classroom with appropriate aids and supports, referred to as “supplementary aids and services,” along with their nondisabled peers in the school they would attend if not disabled, unless a student’s IEP requires some other arrangement. This requires and individualized inquiry into the unique educational needs of each disabled student in determining the possible range of aids and supports that are needed to facilitate the student’s placement in the regular educational environment before a more restrictive placement is considered.
- Evaluations, Reevaluations and Independent Evaluations – evaluations are the foundation for determination of eligibility, classification, and development of the IEP. The procedures by which these evaluations are conducted are specified within the law.
- Parent Participation – parents are equal members of the IEP team and have independent, enforceable rights under the IDEA in addition to the rights of their child.
- Procedural Safeguards – are designed to protect the rights of parents and their child with a disability and, at the same time, give families and school systems several mechanisms by which to resolve their disputes. The formality of the Act’s procedures is itself a safeguard against arbitrary or erroneous decision making. These procedures include the right to due process.
The Individualized Education Program Requirement of the IDEA
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the cornerstone of the IDEA. Public schools are required to create an IEP for each student who has a disability and is eligible for special education and related services. The IEP must set forth the specific services and specialized instruction that will be provided to a child in order that the child receives appropriate and necessary services in the least restrictive environment. An IEP has a variety of components that must be reconsidered at least annually to ensure the child is provided with a FAPE.
IEPs are developed in meetings involving the parents, teachers, special education teachers/providers, school representatives, and other professionals. These meetings can be overwhelming, and even intimidating for parents. IDEA provides that parents are entitled to have “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate” with them at IEP meetings. If you have any concerns that the school is not appropriately meeting the needs of your child, you can always consult an experienced special education lawyer to advocate for you and your child.
Call for a Consultation with Attorney and Advocate Lori E. Arons, Esq. today
New Jersey special education attorney Lori E. Arons, Esq. has extensive experience with the IEP process and due process proceedings as both the parent of children with special needs and as an attorney. If you have any concerns about your child’s special education rights, please call our office for help today at 201-388-9533.