Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law that entitles eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) and ensures special education and related services to those children.

In the law, Congress states:

“Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” []

The IDEA law governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities in the United States.

To fund the portion of the IDEA law that covers special education is directly to each state as a formula grant [], which means that the federal government uses a calculation of the number of children requiring special education to determine the full amount of the grant.  It is up to the state to divide the grant money to individual LEA’s (local education agency) who then provide the special education services to children in their districts.

The IDEA law is essentially comprised of three major components.

Understanding these components will assist in better understanding the IDEA federal funding afforded non-public school students.

Each school’s district must locate, identify, and evaluate all children with disabilities who are enrolled by their parents in non-public schools located in the LEA.

Child-find is the process by which each LEA in which there is located a private school(s) is obligated to

  • inform private school parents – via proactive outreach to them – about the availability of special education assessment services
  • conduct said assessments. These assessments are provided for free and may occur on-site at the private school(s).

Children between the ages of 3 and 21 can be evaluated for, be identified to receive, and receive IDEA-funded services.

An LEA may notrequire RTI as a condition for conducting assessment.

The LEA where the private school is located (which is to say notwhere the students of said private school reside) is responsible for conducting child-find.

(This applies equally to children who reside out-of-state i.e. children who live in Rhode Island.)

The LEA must conduct the child-find process in a timeframe that is the same asthat which it uses for its public school students; this timeframe (beginning at the time that the parents give permission for the testing) is 60 days.

The child-find process outcome is a nota “once and for all” determination. For example, a private school student was previously suspected of having a disability. (S)he was assessed, but the assessment(s) signaled at that time that the student does not have a disability. In the present, however, this same student continues to exhibit signs of having a disability; on account of the fact that the child-find process is not “once and for all,” it is the obligation of the LEA to assess, via child-find, that same student again.

Private school parents have a right to secure a second opinion if they disagree with the LEA’s child-find determination.

The obligation to conduct child find, including individual evaluations, exists independently from the obligation to provide equitable services.

The costs of child find activities, such as evaluations, may notbe considered in determining whether the LEA has spent an appropriate amount on providing special education and related services to parentally placed private school children with disabilities.

Throughout each school year LEAs must engage in “consultation” with all of the private schools which are located within them. This process involves “timely and meaningful” meetings between private school officials, private school parents, and LEA officials.

These consultation meetings determine how, where, and by whom special education and related services will be provided to students and teachers who are deemed eligible, via child-find, for IDEA-funded services. IDEA-funded services maybe provided on-site.

These consultation meetings must occur during the design and development of special education and related services for recipients. Thus, timeliness with regard to the scheduling of these meetings is critical.

A unilateral offer of services by an LEA with no opportunity for discussion is notadequate consultation, and as such, such an offer does not meet the basic requirements – required by law – of the consultation process.

(Note: To our knowledge prior to 2017 none of the coalition’s schools were invited to consultation meetings and this was one of the first indicators that to us that the federal law was not being properly carried out.)

IDEA requires school districts to spend a portion of their IDEA Part B funds on services for and students with disabilities whose parents have enrolled them in non-public school. These funds are called “proportionate share” and they are calculated annually in consultation with non-public school officials. The calculation is based on the number of non-public school students with disabilities studying within the district compared to the overall population of students with disabilities in the district.

Proportionate share is determined by the number of students living both in and outside the LEA (in which the private a school(s) is located) who have been EVALUATED AND FOUND TO NEED special education and/or related services.

Proportionate share is NOT determined by the number of students who actually receive services!