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Abstract: This special paper introduces the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, describes the school district's obligation to advocate for students with disabilities, reviews student rights created by the law, defines key terms, and takes the reader, step by step, through the procedural protections provided by the regulations.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) imposes on a board of education, among other things, the obligation to make every reasonable attempt to enter into a "partnership" with the parents of a student with disabilities to educate the student. For the school district, this partnership involves a complicated set of legal obligations which require it to Iliaintain a continuing relationship with the parents throughout the student's school career. Absent a significant event, such as the student's family moving out of the district, the IDEA forges an "educational marriage" between a district and the parents of a student with disabilities--without the possibility of divorce! The parties must make every reasonable attempt to maintain that relationship, even if they have disputes and some of those disputes require three-party resolution such as mediation.

District's Obligation to Advocate For Students With Disabilities

The district not only is legally obligated to affirmatively find students who possibly have disabilities, it also must evaluate those students to determine whether they do have disabilities and, if so, establish their areas of need. If a student is found to have a disability, the district must make evelY reasonable effort to meaningfully involve the parents in the cooperative development of an IEP to establish, among other things, the programs and services neceSSaIY to meet that student's unique needs.

By placing a variety of affirmative obligations on the district, the IDEA and the regulations promulgated pursuant to it have created a dual advocacy law. Under this law, both district staff and parents have the right and corresponding responsibility to advocate on behalf of the student with disabilities with regard to whether the student should be determined to be eligible for special education programs and services and, if so, what those programs and services should be. Sometimes, districts and their staff fail to recognize their affirmative obligations under the IDEA or, if they do recognize them, fail to act on them.


Historical Framework of the IDEA

The IDEA was an attempt to codify the judicial decisions of Pensylvania Association for Retarded Children v. Commonwealth and Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia. Both cases held that children with disabilities were to be given access to adequate, publicly supported education and struck down local statutes and regulations that expressly excluded disabled individuals from education and training programs.

In 1966, Congress first addressed the lack of educational services for children with disabilities when it amended the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to establish a grant program for the purpose of assisting the States in the initiation, expansion, and improvement of programs and projects ... for the education of handicapped children.

In 1970, the program was repealed by the Education for the Handicapped Act, Part B of which established a grant program similar in purpose to the repealed legislation.

In 1974 federal funding was greatly increased for education of the disabled. For the first time, the law required recipient states to adopt a goal of providing full educational opportunities to all handicapped children. A year of study produced the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

Rights Created by the IDEA

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Dr. Edward Dragan, provides education expert consultation for high-profile and complicated cases. As an educator and administrator, he has more than 35 years' experience as a teacher, principal, superintendent and director of special education. He also has served as a state department of education official.

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