Kentucky's Office for the
Americans with Disabilities Act

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Key Provisions

The School-to-Work Act, Perkins, §504, and the ADA provide only sketchy guidance as to how to design the support services, modifications, and accommodations that individual students need for meaningful participation. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), however, provides for individualized planning and service design. IDEA provisions regarding evaluations, Individualized Educational Programs, and transition planning and services provide powerful tools for accomplishing what these other laws require.

A.  How it operates

IDEA provides federal aid to assist state and local education agencies in meeting the needs of children and youth with disabilities. In return, states and local school systems must comply with the detailed substantive and procedural requirements set forth in the statute and the regulations implementing it.

B.  Who is covered

Unlike §504 and the ADA, which protect any student with any "physical or mental impairment" that "substantially limits a major life activity," IDEA applies only to students who -

  • Have one of the disabilities listed in the statute, and
  • Need special education as a result

IDEA disabilities include: mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance, orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, and specific learning disabilities (44).

C. Right to a free appropriate public education, including transition planning and services

All IDEA-eligible students are entitled to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) consisting of an appropriate elementary or secondary education that meets state standards, along with necessary "special education," "related services," and "transition services." (45).

     1. Special Education

        IDEA defines "special education" as "specially designed instruction…to meet the unique
       needs of a child with a disability," including instruction conducted in the classroom and in
       other settings (46). "Specially designed instruction" means adapting the content,
       methodology, or delivery of instruction to:

  • Address the child's unique disability-related needs
  • Enable the child to meet the standards embedded in the regular education curriculum adopted for all students

      2. Related services

         "Related services" are any developmental, corrective, and other support services that a child 
          may need to benefit from his or her education (47).  Examples include transportation,
          rehabilitation counseling, physical and occupational therapy, speech-language pathology
          and audio logy services, recreation, counseling, social work services, psychological
          services, orientation and mobility services, health-related services, and assistive technology.

      3. Transition Services

          As students approach high school age, IDEA calls for transition planning and services.
          Transition services are a coordinated set of activities that promote movement from school to
          post-school activities, such as (among other things) employment, postsecondary education,
          or vocational training. Requirements regarding transition services are discussed in further
          detail later in this chapter.

D.  Special education is not a place

Under these definitions, "special education" is a package of instructional techniques and services. It is not a place. Once instruction for an individual child has been tailored as required to address his or her needs it may (depending upon the child's needs) be provided in a variety of settings including a "regular" classroom. IDEA contains a presumption that students will fully participate in the "general," meaning regular, curriculum (48) and be educated in regular classes, supported by appropriate services (49).

This includes the opportunity to attend classes with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent feasible in light of their individual needs (50). The U.S. Department of Education §504 regulations include an identical requirement (51). Schools must provide the supplementary aids and services students need for successful learning in integrated classes. Examples of such aids and services include:

    • Assistance of an itinerant teacher with special education training
    • A classroom aide
    • Use of computers or other assistive technology devices
    • Modification of the regular education curriculum
    • Consultation between the regular education teacher and special education personnel
    • Special education training for the regular education teacher
    • Provision of some special education and related services within the regular education classroom
    • Any other available aids or services appropriate to the child's particular disabilities

Exclusion is allowed only if a child cannot learn in a regular class even with these services (52).

E.  Individualized educational programs

IDEA contains detailed requirements for planning the education of individual students. Each student must be provided a comprehensive evaluation of his or her educational needs at least once every three years (53). IDEA evaluations and evaluation requirements, and the role they may play in ensuring high quality, equitable learning for school-to-work participants with disabilities, are discussed in detail in chapter 7.

Drawing upon evaluation results and other relevant information, school personnel working in conjunction with parents must each year develop an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for the student (54).

Most relevant to planning for equitable participation and high quality outcomes in school-to-work programs, the IEP:

  • Describes the student's present levels of educational performance, including how his or her disability affects learning to standards in the regular curriculum
  • Sets annual goals and short-term objectives related to the student's achievement in the regular curriculum, and to other disability-related educational needs
  • Describes the special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the student (or on his or her behalf) to allow the student to meet the annual goals (including achievement in the regular curriculum) and to enable the student to learn effectively in regular education classes
  • Includes a statement of the student's need for transition services, and provides for meeting those needs
  • Explains how the student will be assessed
  • Addresses the student's communication needs, including the needs of students with hearing impairments
  • Addresses the language needs of students with limited-English proficiency
  • Includes positive behavioral strategies and supports for students whose disabilities involve behavior that impedes learning
  • Describes the program modifications and/or supports for school personnel to be provided
  • Explains the extent, if any, to which the student will not fully participate in the regular curriculum
  • Justifies the extent, if any, to which the student will not attend classes with non-disabled peers (55)

F.  Transition planning

Planning to prepare youth for the transition to adult life begins by age 14. From this age on, the IEP must include a statement of the student's "transition service needs," focused on his or her course of study (56). When the student turns 16, and earlier if appropriate in light of the student's needs, IEPs must include the full range of needed "transition services." (57).  At any age, transition planning and services must ensure that students continue in the regular curriculum aligned with state content standards and are not tracked into courses of study that limit their options for postsecondary education. Under IDEA, "transition services" means a coordinated set of activities for a student that promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including any of the following:

  • Employment
  • Postsecondary education
  • Vocational training
  • Continuing and adult education
  • Adult services
  • Independent living
  • Community participation (58).

Transition services must be based upon the individual student's preferences, interests, and needs, and include:

  • Instruction
  • Related services
  • Community experiences
  • Development of employment and other postschool adult living objectives
  • Acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation when appropriate (59)

The school system is responsible for ensuring that each youth receives all needed transition services. However, as discussed below, particular services might be provided by other agencies, such as vocational rehabilitation agencies. The IEP must specify the role such outside entities will play. If an outside agency fails to provide the transition services for which it is responsible in the IEP, the school system must reconvene the youth's IEP team and devise alternative ways to meet his or her transition objectives (60).

G.  Parent, Student, and Agency participation in transition planning

IDEA always requires schools to notify parents in advance of IEP meetings and to make every effort to ensure their participation (61). Students also have the right to attend their IEP meetings whenever appropriate (62). Parents and schools may, under the law, always invite outside service providers and others with knowledge or expertise about the student to participate in meetings (63).

Recognizing the unique issues and concerns at stake in transition planning, IDEA requires additional measures when transition services are to be discussed -

         1.  Parent notification

        Whenever transition services are to be discussed, the written notice ordinarily provided parents prior to an IEP meeting must also explain that transition services will be considered (64). The notice must also inform the parent that the school will invite the student to attend and identify any other agency that will be invited to send a representative to the meeting (65). Receipt of such notice gives parents an opportunity to think about future goals, plans, and services for their child, as well as to ask that additional or alternate agencies be included in the meeting.

        2.  Student participation

      Schools must invite the student to attend any meeting at which transition services are to be discussed and to participate in the discussion of his or her future goals and plans (66). This mandate, reflecting the importance of self-determination and empowerment, is a strong one: if the student does not attend, the school must take other steps to ensure that the student's preferences and interests are considered (67).

        3.  Agency participation

      In light of the broad scope of required transition services under IDEA, the act anticipates that outside agencies sometimes will participate with schools in providing them (68). Towards this end, the law requires that meetings to discuss transition include a representative of any other agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for a transition service (69). Such agencies might include those dealing with vocational rehabilitation; employment and training; housing; specialized services for youth and adults with developmental disabilities, mental health needs, or other disabilities; and other providers relevant to the individual needs and preferences of the student.

     If an agency invited to send a representative does not do so, the school system must take other steps to obtain the participation of that agency in planning transition services (70). Once such participation is secured, as noted above, the student's IEP must reflect the responsibility of each participating agency for providing particular transition services, including the school's (71). In the event that an outside participating agency fails to provide agreed-upon services, the school must act as soon as possible to hold a new meeting and develop alternative strategies for meeting the student's transition needs (72).

H.  Dispute Resolution

IDEA includes detailed procedures for resolving disputes between parents and schools regarding the education and services, including transition services, to be provided a student with disabilities. These include voluntary mediation, due process hearings, and court appeals (73).

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