In the past, schools did not do much to address the special needs of children with disabilities. Sometimes school officials placed them in ordinary classrooms without providing them with adequate support. Other times, administrators relegated them to separate classrooms. At times, public schools did not admit children with disabilities at all. Such policies denied appropriate access to public education to over 4 million children in the United States.

Eventually, U.S. lawmakers recognized that all children should have equal access to public education. President Ford signed the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act into law in 1975. There are four sections to IDEA, and Part B applies specifically to children between the ages of three and 21.

State and local school districts can receive financial support from the federal government under IDEA. However, each must adhere to the educational guidelines set forth in Part B regarding the rights of schoolchildren with disabilities.

Input

Parents must have input into the education process for their children. To a reasonable extent, educators should also take the children’s input into account.

Least restrictive environment

Under IDEA, children with disabilities should learn alongside their non-disabled peers in a typical setting to the extent possible.

Individualized education plan

An IEP sets forth the goals for the child’s education. It also establishes the actions required of the child, the parents and educational providers to achieve those goals, laying out the responsibilities of each in detail.

Evaluation

While parents may know about a child’s special needs before he or she starts school, sometimes a school professional is the first one to recognize that the child may have a disability. The child has a right to an evaluation in all areas to which the suspected disability may relate if it has the potential to impact the student’s behavior or learning in a significant way.

Due process

Under IDEA, parents have the right to challenge the treatment their child receives. This may occur when parents believe their child is not receiving the services he or she needs or that the IEP is not appropriate.

The law requires each state to educate all children. Following the guidelines in IDEA, Part B helps to ensure that children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate education from the public school system.