Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
In 1990, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) replaced the Education of the Handicapped Act (P.L. 94-142 and P.L. 99-457). IDEA (P.L. 105-17) states that children with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education and that each child's education will be planned and monitored with an individualized education program or an individualized family service plan. Section 612 of IDEA states:
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 that 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 is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1990)
When IDEA replaced prior legislature, the age range mandated in P.L. 94-142 (6 through 21 years) and in P.L. 99-457 (ages 3 through 6) was combined to promote the involvement of the family and to offer a wide range of services and specialists to support the child in a least restrictive environment. IDEA also changed the language of the law, focusing more on the individual with disabilities rather than on handicapped children. This new terminology focuses attention to the individual, not to the label or condition. Categories of eligibility for special education services are included in IDEA.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 shifted the focus of IDEA to improve teaching and learning through emphasizing the individual educational plan as a primary tool for educational planning, increasing the role of parents in educational decision making and promoting meaningful access to the general curriculum. IDEA 1997 reflected a strengthened "preference for children with disabilities to be educated and receive services with their non-disabled age-mates in typical early childhood settings" (Smith & Rapport, 1999). Part B of this law provided resources and services for children ages 3 through 5 with developmental delays or those with an identified disability. The child's learning needs are outlined on either an IEP or IFSP, with the major focus on providing support and resources for developmental learning. The use of a noncategorical classification, such as development delay, is permitted for children ages 3 through 9.
Part C of IDEA authorizes financial assistance to support the needs of infants and toddlers with disabilities and the needs of their families. Agencies are to provide comprehensive early intervention services that focus on the child's developmental and medical needs as well as family needs. Services and progress are documented on the IFSP and are to be provided in the natural environment, which is often the home with infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers must be classified under a noncategorical term, such as developmental delay. Under Part C, each state has the option to include children who are at risk of developmental delays.
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