Special Education Programs and Children’s Eligibility: A Quick Overview

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law protecting and ensuring that all states meet and satisfy the needs of disabled children (U.S. Code Title 20, Chapter 33). IDEA is the touchstone of special education law. The act governs the way states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and other related services to disabled children. Since many parents and even practitioners in the legal, educational, and social services sectors need more information on eligibility and other states vs. federal differences in the law’s application, we will cover these topics today.

What is IDEA and What Does it Do for Disabled Children?

Under IDEA, disabled children’s special needs are addressed from their birth to the age of twenty-six. Moreover, all states accepting and using federal funding have to comply with IDEA. Nevertheless, many states interpret the IDEA rules, passing their related legislation and implementation methodologies, because IDEA leaves room for interpretation in some areas.


The good news is that it leaves room for states to interpret the rules and pass their own laws on applying them. Another good news is that no state can contradict IDEA or provide less than the federal law requirements. But, on the other hand, states can provide more to disabled children and their parents.

So what does IDEA do for disabled children?

It guarantees that students receive Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to prepare them for life skills, further education, employment, independent living, etc. The FAPE is guaranteed to children aged three to twenty-one.

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It includes a personalized, tailored educational program specific to each child, designed to meet and satisfy that specific child’s needs, and providing access to the general curriculum while meeting the grade-level standards established by each state.

Children’s Eligibility for IDEA Services in Federal Law vs. State Laws

The law requires school districts to identify and evaluate children with disabilities. Disabled students then receive access to special education programs and individualized services designed to meet their special needs.

One issue with eligibility is that special education law comes with certain requirements. As a result, in some cases, children are found ineligible for some programs, which, in turn, leads to cascading problems for them and their families.

Parents should know they could address dedicated special education lawyers to sort things out. For instance, as leading advocates in special education litigation, the law offices of M.J. Snyder have years of experience obtaining retrospective and future appropriate programming for children. In addition, such legal representatives can fight for your child’s rights by either state or federal litigation, hearings, IEP meetings, settlements, mediation, etc.

For children to benefit from IDEA, they should present one or more of the following conditions.

Under Federal Law

According to IDEA, children who have one of the 13 types of disabilities usually for special education. The federal law stipulates that the children’s educational performance needs to be “adversely affected” by the disability in question.

Under State Law

As we said above, states must comply with the federal IDEA provisions. However, they can make some changes, so eligibility under the “specific learning disability” category can differ from state to state and even from one school district to another in the same state. Moreover, the law allows states to use different models to decide if a child qualifies for IDEA programs. For this reason, what constitutes a “specific learning disability” in one state might mean something different in another.

If a school district or the state denied your disabled child access to IDEA, you should contact an experienced special education law office from your state. With all the differences among districts and states, you need an attorney knowing both federal and state law inside out.

The same goes for the FAPE and the least restrictive environment (LRE). Under IDEA, every child with a disability gets free and appropriate education. Moreover, disabled children also have the right to special education in LREs (continuously available placements, ranging from self-contained classrooms to inclusion classrooms).

Benefiting from IDEA: What Parents Should Know

Suppose a child presents one or more impairments, and there is proof that those impairments affect their academic performance negatively. In that case, the child might be eligible for special education programs under IDEA provisions.

As you might have guessed already, the child needs to go through regular reevaluations every three years. The law allows for modifications and adjustments to be made accordingly. Some parents have their kids evaluated more frequently or even in independent environments. The law allows you to do this, especially if you are not 100% satisfied with the school’s evaluation or notice that your kids’ special needs have changed since the last assessment.

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