History and Foundations of Special Education
In the past 50 years, our understanding of special education has greatly changed. We have gained a deeper awareness of the needs of diverse students as well as how our services can positively impact them. Our knowledge today tells us that students with disabilities can thrive in school and throughout their lives with early intervention, goal setting, and the right kinds of services and support. A great deal of this change was brought about by the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. In this video, we will talk about the history and foundation of IDEA, what the law consists of, and its impact. Let’s get started!
IDEA’s evolution is rooted in a complicated history. In the early 1970s, it was rare that children with disabilities were accommodated, and some states prohibited certain children from attending public schools, such as those who were blind or deaf, or had an intellectual disability. Academic expectations for these students were low, and their education, which happened in a separate setting, was often underfunded and not well-supported.
Then, in 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, otherwise referred to as EHA, came into effect with the intent of providing children with disabilities the opportunity to receive a free and appropriate public education, including early intervention, special education, and related services. At the time of its passing, 6.5 million infants, toddlers, children, and young people were eligible for services under this law. Originally meant to support students with vocational rehabilitation services, EHA particularly focused on the most severely disabled. In partnership with parents, public schools were asked to create an education plan that replicated as closely as possible the education of students in general education settings.
Over the next fifteen years, EHA was amended and changed multiple times, becoming IDEA in 1990. As the name suggests, at this point the law became focused more on the education provided to individual students, along with the intention of enhancing their opportunities after they completed school.
IDEA is structured around six key principles that are meant to ensure that a student’s educational needs are met and that the student is progressing.
The first principle comes from the original EHA law, which guarantees that each student is entitled to receive a free appropriate public education, also referred to as FAPE. Essentially, this means that public schools are legally required to provide special education services to meet the individual needs of students with specifically designed instruction.
The second principle is that each student will receive an appropriate evaluation, which ensures both placement in the correct classroom as well as regular assessments and additional support as needed. The evaluations may vary depending on the need, but some examples may be developmental assessments, intelligence quotient tests, academic achievement tests, adaptive behavior scales, or curriculum-based assessments. This principle allows educators to request an evaluation if they believe that a student has a disability which is impacting their schooling.
The third principle is the Individualized Education Plan, better known as an IEP. To help the child benefit from the educational program, this individualized document outlines the services and resources the school will provide. Individual plans are developed in collaboration with educators, parents, and those who will be providing services to meet the needs of each student. A student’s IEP should be reviewed every year, offering details on their current performance, how they can achieve their educational goals, and how they will participate in the special or general education curriculum.
The fourth principle is in regards to placement and requires that each student with special needs be placed in the least restrictive environment possible, also known as LRE. This term refers to the practice of integrating students with special needs into general education classrooms, and it represents a considerable shift from the state of education before the original 1975 Act.
The fifth and sixth principles both focus on parental participation. They require that educational plans are a product of collaboration between parents and teachers, with the primary focus being on each student’s academic growth. IDEA specifies the importance of parents being meaningfully involved in the development and reviews of the IEP, and determining placement decisions. It is also important to collaborate with parents in regards to reviewing educational data and discussing transition plans.
And finally, procedural safeguards should be offered, meaning that parents should be informed about their rights and responsibilities as well as how the system works for them to review progress and be involved in resolving disputes. Parents have the right to challenge their child’s educational plan if they do not believe their child is receiving the appropriate services.
In addition to the six principles, there are also four parts to IDEA.
Part A provides the principles and structure for the rest of the Act. In addition to defining the terms used, this section established the Office of Special Education Programs, which allowed the Act’s terms to be managed and implemented.
Part B of IDEA focuses on the educational guidelines that would apply to children of school age, ages 3 years old to 21 years old. In exchange for receiving IDEA financial support, the districts are obligated to follow the six principles as outlined in the law.
Part C discusses funding and services for very young children ranging from birth to age 3 and states the importance of early identification and support. Specifically, all states are required to establish a system by which infants and toddlers with disabilities birth to age 3 can be identified and evaluated as early as possible. If they meet the requirements, the child is given an Individual Family Service Plan, or IFSP, which lays out the concerns and goals of the child, as well as what services they will need.
In Part D of IDEA, national initiatives are described, aimed at improving the education of children with disabilities. Education or transitional services are two examples of these activities, as well as resources to support projects or grants.
Because of the funding and specific principles and requirements, IDEA has very distinct categories under which a student is considered eligible for special education and can be considered for related services. There are 13 different eligibility categories, and they are deaf-blindness, autism, emotional disturbance, deafness, intellectual disability, hearing impairments, blindness or visual impairments, orthopedic impairment, multiple disabilities, specific learning disability, traumatic brain injury, speech and language impairment, or “other health impaired.”
IDEA has changed the entire educational system for students with disabilities. The law plays a vital role in ensuring that children receive the support they need, thus allowing them not only to have a more enriched education but also a more fulfilled adult life. It’s provided a framework for states to follow and for parents to turn to when they need guidance. While amendments have been made and may continue to be made as the world changes, IDEA has facilitated many achievements since its enactment and will continue to positively contribute to education.
That’s all for this review. Thanks for watching, and happy studying!