Issues Library—Federal Education Policy
Special Needs and IDEA
What is IDEA?
IDEA is an acronym for the Individuals with Disability Education Act. The federal government first created a federal law on special education in 1975, with the passage and signing of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. This Act was renamed IDEA in 1990. It was reauthorized by Congress in 2004 and President George W. Bush signed it into law on December 3, 2004, with provisions becoming effective on July 1, 2006.1
What Does IDEA Do?
IDEA charges school districts to identify, locate, and evaluate children aged 3–22 who have one of 13 identifiable disabilities that adversely affect educational performance. The local school districts then provide special education services to these children.
IDEA testing and services, however, are not mandatory. The legislation includes a plank called “Informed Parent Consent.” This requires that the parent: a) has been fully informed in his or her native language of all information related to IDEA testing and resources, b) understands and agrees in writing to utilizes provisions of IDEA, and c) understands that consent is voluntary and can be revoked at any time. In other words, “Informed consent is required for an evaluation, a reevaluation, and for the initial delivery of special education services.”2 This means that the school district can not even engage in evaluation of a child unless the parent agrees.3
How Does IDEA Affect Homeschoolers?
Although the law explicitly requires parental consent prior to any child evaluations, many school district officials are unfamiliar with or do not understand this provision of the law. Some education officials are under the mistaken belief that current law requires them to give evaluations to special needs children—regardless of whether parents give consent—including children in non-public schools. In 2006, HSLDA won an important case that clarifies this issue. In Fitzgerald v. Camdenton R-III School District the court ruled that a school district did not have the right to override a parent’s consent. New regulations written as a result of this case make it very clear that parents, not the school district, are the ones who make the decision whether or not their children will be evaluated under IDEA.
Parents must be aware, however, that they cannot simultaneously deny consent and then demand a Section 504 plan (an older type of disability plan) for their students. If parents wish for their children to receive government funded services, they must accept the concomitant governmental evaluations of their child. We advise parents who wish to remain free from government supervision to pursue private special education services.4
If you or your family ever encounters misunderstandings with local education officials in regard to the provisions of IDEA, please contact HSLDA. We are happy to work with you and local educators to ensure that everyone understands these regulations.
1. Office of Special Education Programs. (2 February 2007). IDEA Regulations Alignment with the No Child Left Behind Act. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from
2. NCLD Public Policy Staff. (10 March 2009). IDEA Words and Terms to Know. National Center for
Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ncld.org/resources1/glossaries/idea-terms-to-know.
3. Understanding IDEA. (2009). Understanding Special Education’s Website. Retrieved from
4. Office for Civil Rights. (27 March 2009). Protecting Students with Disabilities: Frequently Asked Questions
About Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities. U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html.
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