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            In 1975, Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, with the goal of ensuring that students with a qualified disability are provided with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their special, unique individual needs. IDEA has expanded much over the years, and requires that each and every U.S. state provides a FAPE to all eligible children with disabilities residing in that state. If you are a parent of a student with a disability in Kansas or Missouri, our firm may be able to help you understand your rights under IDEA.


            Under IDEA, each state must have in place policies and procedures that guarantee that all children with disabilities (even homeschooled children, wards of the State, and children who attend private schools) who are in need of special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated. This is referred to as “child find.” When a child with a qualified disability in need of special education and related services is not properly identified, and that child has to be placed elsewhere to receive the proper special education and related services, some courts have held that parents are entitled to reimbursement by the school district of any expenses paid out of pocket.


            When a child has been properly identified, a team of people (usually a variety of school personnel and the child’s parents, along with any other necessary members) come together to create the child’s individualized education program (IEP). Under IDEA, there are many requirements that an IEP must follow, and people implementing a student’s IEP must do so very carefully. If an IEP is not being followed, parents should address this issue with their child’s school in a timely manner, and if no resolution is reached, parents should consider whether they need to file a “due process hearing” with their state’s department of education. Attorneys are not required for a parent to file for due process, but it is often recommended that parents utilize an attorney if they are able to do so.


            There is another important concept under IDEA called the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) which states that public agencies within each State (such as school districts) must ensure that children who receive special education must be in the same classrooms as other children who do not receive special education as much as possible. Additionally, LRE holds that children who receive special education should only be removed from the regular education environment when necessary. There are certain situations in which a child may be better suited in a different environment, and it varies based on each child and their unique, individual needs.


            In addition to requiring that children with qualified disabilities receive special education, IDEA also requires that certain “related services” may be necessary for students with disabilities. Related services can include transportation, life skills training, physical and occupational therapy, counseling services, interpreting services, medical services, and much more, all designed to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.


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