It was 40 years ago this month that access to education fundamentally changed for children living with disabilities. In November 1975, a federal law was enacted that has since been named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). One of the law's main goals was to ensure that students with disabilities were not denied the opportunity for a "free and appropriate public education." That education also had to be modified to fit their unique needs.
While this legislation was groundbreaking and highly important, its mandates are still being misinterpreted some four decades after it was enacted. In an attempt to improve understanding, the U.S. Department of Education recently released guidance clarifying goals of individualized education plans, which are a crucial component of the IDEA.
Schools are required to develop IEPs for children with certain disabilities, but too many IEPs are inadequate. One common problem is that some IEPs are not designed to help children reach grade-level learning.
In the recently released guidance, the Department of Education specified that IEPs need to meet "the state's academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled." In short, this means that an IEP must generally be structured in such a way that allows a student to learn grade-level academics with whatever support services and instruction methods are needed to make those academic standards achievable.
Exceptions may be made in a small number of cases involving students with significant cognitive disabilities if it is simply not possible to meet the grade-level academic standards mentioned above. In such cases, states can establish "alternate academic achievement standards."
The Department of Education's guidance document does not change laws or requirements. Rather, it simply clarifies how states and school districts should be fulfilling their obligations to students with IEPs.
If your child's IEP is inadequate or if the school refuses to admit that an IEP is necessary, please discuss your case with an experienced and compassionate education law attorney who can serve as an advocate for your family.