Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. IDEA is a series of federal laws and regulations that apply to individuals with disabilities from birth through the age of 21. If you would like to read the IDEA legislation in full, please visit sites.ed.gov/idea/. On this page, we highlighted the aspects of IDEA that are particularly relevant to our mission, but all parts of the legislation are meaningful.

Legislation: “Individualized education program; IEP the term ‘individualized education program’ or ‘IEP’ means a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with section 1414(d) of this title” (IDEA, Section 1401(14)).

In our words: The Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a plan that lays out the special education instruction, supports, and services a student receives. When a student qualifies for special education services based on an evaluation, an IEP team meets to develop an initial IEP. The IEP team includes the student, parents/guardians of the student, a special education teacher, a general education teacher, an administrator, and any related service providers (speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy). After developing the initial IEP,  the IEP team meets at least annually to review and revise the IEP.  

Legislation: “Supplementary aids and services: the term ‘supplementary aids and services’ means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with section 1412(a)(5) of this title” (IDEA, Section 1401(33)). 

In our words: Supplementary aids and services are aides, services, and supports the student needs to be successful. These are developed by the IEP team and can include accommodations and modifications to the curriculum or how progress is measured, direct services, specialized equipment, alterations to the educational environment, materials, and specific training for staff working with the child.

Legislation: “The term “transition services” means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that—(A) is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (B) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and (C) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation” (IDEA, Section 1401(34)).

In our words: Transition planning is designed to prepare students with disabilities with the skills they need to successfully transition from the world of school to adulthood and takes into account the student’s personal interests, strengths, dreams, and needs. There are five federally mandated areas of transition planning: independent living, recreation and leisure, employment, community participation, and post secondary education. As part of the student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), formal transition planning begins when a student reaches ninth grade or age 14. However, planning can begin earlier. 

Legislation:Permissive use of funds (A) Uses Notwithstanding paragraph (2)(A) or section 1412(a)(17)(B) of this title (relating to commingled funds), funds provided to the local educational agency under this subchapter may be used for the following activities: (i) Services and aids that also benefit nondisabled children. For the costs of special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services, provided in a regular class or other education-related setting to a child with a disability in accordance with the individualized education program of the child, even if 1 or more nondisabled children benefit from such services” (IDEA, Section 1413 (a)(4)(A)(i)).

In our words: It is okay (and awesome) for special education funding to positively impact individuals with and without disabilities when a school implements student-specific supports in a general education classroom.

Legislation: “A free appropriate public education is available to all children with disabilities residing in the State between the ages of 3 and 21, inclusive, including children with disabilities who have been suspended or expelled from school” (IDEA, Section 1412(a)(1)(A)).

In our words: A Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) orders school districts to provide a student with an education that includes special services, related services, and access to the general education. These services are of no cost to the student’s family and prepare the student for continued education, employment, and independent living. 

Legislation: “Least restrictive environment: (A) In general to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” (IDEA, Section 1412(a)(5)(A)).


In our words: The Least Restrictive Environment, or LRE, ensures that students with disabilities are included in the general education classroom with their nondisabled peers as much as possible. It also aims to have a student with a disability participate in activities that occur throughout the school day including: lunch, snack, passing time, and extracurriculars. The LRE is unique to the student and determined by the IEP team.  When the student is not receiving instruction in the general education classroom with their peers, the LRE must state why this placement is appropriate. For example, a student may receive specialized instruction in math and reading, but participate with their peers without disabilities in science, social studies, gym, and music.

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